May 25, 2006
Selenitic Second Life
Understandably, a number of people didn't exactly appreciate my comments about Second Life in a previous post. I'd like to respond.
The core concept, a population of people, empowered to create their own physical (virtual) space, is exceptional. Second Life is undoubtedly the best thing of it's kind out there. My frustrations lie in the fact that it doesn't live up to it's full potentional. What attracts me most about Second Life is the community (at an affordable price), so I'm not so interested in the islands. But community is what I feel is most poorly implemented. In short, it attracts me much less than my own real world and I'm left wondering why the Lindens (the Second Life staff) did not try to attract people like me with the most basic city planning. Why isn't the megapolis divided into small towns, each with a limited population of around 3000? Why aren't market areas seperated from the living area? Why aren't there town centers, with town squares? And what about a central public park and large public building that one can see from almost any part of town? All of these things are just the first steps toward beginning a community... then there's government, voting, virtual laws. And above all else, the town settings must be designed and inviting – like a town set on a high mesa or clustered on the side of a steep hill, where every dwelling has a view to the river below. And some of these settings could even border on the fantastic... an escape from the real world rather than a sensory near oppressive sensory overload.
The Second Life concept is great. It's just poorly implemented. So who will make it work? The Lindens? I hope.
In the meantime, it's refreshing to witness the hundreds (thousands?) of people who, though they may have never developed any software at all, find themselves in Second Life, creating mini-worlds of their own!
~aDen, a Second Life inhabitant, just sent me images of a the Myst rocket ship that he/she made. Wow! You gotta love this! (I've included the corresponding images from Myst, along with ~aDen's images... click to enlarge.)
Some say "First Land" (512 m2 parcels, each for a first-time landowner) are like ghettos, with each person imposing their vision into a compact space. Over time, people move out, wanting more land, and from the chaos comes some degree of stability--like a fine wine--with age.
I don't think the Lindens can "make this world" insularly--it's a Resident-created world! It's up to the Lindens to provide tools, yes, but it's this constant exchange with the community. As a former Resi who frequently made feature suggestions, I've experienced this trueness multiple times. (LA, KEEP AN EYE ON CALEDONICS. :O)
But for now, here's a blunt generalization: think of sci-fi cliches with "the galactic core" and alien homeworlds. Homeworlds are more orderly and uniform because they stock a single (or in some cases, several cooperative and/or not-so-cooperative) species. But the galactic core, like Trantor, or Coruscant, have such a kaleidoscopic mishmash of STUFF that it causes exponential, intergalactic culture shock.
Think of the islands as homeworlds, and the mainland as the galactic core.
Reader Comment: Also, from Second Life resident Maxx Monde...
You're right, of course Robyn. SL is a free-for-all that doesn't result in aesthetic coherence, but there is some excellent things there, if you can look in the right places.
Having Myst recreated (in part) inside of SL is very cool, just like the URU players did with their island when the service shut down. SL is the only place to even attempt such a thing.
It can only get better, over time, as pure design talent gets poured into the arena. I certainly try to do my part :)
April 10, 2006
Pattern Languages in the Cyberverse
A pearl of a book in my library is A Pattern Language. Every student of design but especially every set designer, game designer and architect should ingest the contents of this invaluable bible of architectual patterns.
It's difficult to summarize A Pattern Language. The patterns themselves can best be described as those qualities of human or evolutionary design that function together in the style of a network, whether one is observing the most minute flourish or standing back and observing from afar... either way the patterns are still present, working seemlessly together in a sort of language (or vernacular). In nature, that which is not fit enough to function correctly within the parameters of the patterns dies. But humans can tend to keep oppresive architectural and design trends alive – billboards, fast food restaurants, above ground parking garages – despite their various malignancies. So in order to live harmoniously within the context of a city, building or structure, humans can artificially create (or evolve) their own pattern languages based on careful [intuitive] observation of what has and has not worked in structures throughout time and around the world. They then can apply this language to future city-planning, building or structural designs.
Or they can haphazardly throw things together, without any planning.
Though anyone can come up with their own pattern language, A Pattern Language presents the authors' version of a language, laying forth many well researched patterns as varied and practical as "Four Story Limit", "Lace of Country Streets", "Promenade" and "Windows Overlooking Life", each of which is described in detail and well-illustrated by sketches or photographs.
If I have any complaints about the book, it's that the patterns seem to be built on inspirations from quaint old world towns and villages; the tastes of the authors are decidedly old world. Perhaps this is forgivable; the authors' research has led them to seek out those patterns which have proven (to them) to be the most time tested. But it's really not too much of a problem: many of these age old principles can easily be applied to even modern and post modern design.
There are probably other faults with the book; which is why it all has to be taken with a grain of salt and run through one's personal grid, with the end result of forming one's own pattern language. In fact the authors openly encourage this.
I'm not a city planner; I can only guess how architects or city planners might utilize information like this, but I've found it all very useful and I'm certain that game designers who routinely create large environments would stand to profit greatly by reading or at least referencing A Pattern Language.
Second Life is a great example, and I don't mind picking on it because it's so poorly designed. In fact, it's a designless environment. The Second Life world physically evolves as the combination of inhabitants desire it to evolve; the players are the authors of the content. Which sounds wonderful... in a way it is a unique experiment. But it could be much more than this; it has the potential of attracting a much broader audience: all ages and in all walks of life. It will never do that until it has a overarching "point of view" given to it by the Second Life staff. It is seriously in need of a pattern language.
For example, as a newcomer to Second Life, one is lost against the endless flat megapolis, cramped with flashing buildings and more flashing buildings. There's barely space to move: one must fly to get away. Perhaps that's because there are no paths or greenways in the city (do I dare call it a city?). Trees are instantly mowed down to make way for more flashing buildings. Not once did I ever encounter a city park or city forest, though I always enjoyed resting on random spots of unsold land (which would quickly be bought – the trees soon mowed down). Nowhere is there a Second Life sponsored monument or memorial. Not even a sponsored Town Hall or city square. There are not housing hills or house clusters or seperate shopping promanades and markets. Instead, everything is thrown together in one endless chaotic clutter.
Second Life is not even a visual circus: it is an endless trash heap of a city. It will never achieve true cyberverse status because it can't really compete with the real universe for our attention. In the Second Life environment, even the most unfit structures survive... in fact they seem to thrive. Discarded structures survive (my own land and it's pile of half-built experiments sits there... no one cares). It is a world with hardly any ground rules, no limits, no divisions; it is not an evolutionary design, it is cancerous growth.
(click to enlarge)
Second Life is just one example of a cyberverse that could greatly increase its audience by an increased understanding of the classic patterns that make life itself livable. These are the same patterns to which we are naturally attracted in cities such as San Francisco, Kyoto or Calcata. They are also very often present in classic, visually immersive works of fiction, such as Disneyland, Star Wars or fill-in-the-blank.*
A Pattern Language is obviously just one reference tool out of many. But an invaluable one. I recommend it. If you're a designer, you won't be sorry.
Reader comment: gfburke says,
Pattern language is excellent stuff and indirectly spawned the object-oriented programming discipline of design patterns. Are you familiar with Christopher Alexander's other works, such as A Timeless Way Of Building and especially the recently published four volume masterwork The Nature of Order?
Update: Thanks gfburke! I just received my copy of The Nature of Order and am shocked (and thrilled) to see that Christopher Alexander's philosophy is based around nature and life (I hadn't clearly understood this until now). I can't wait to dig in.
* Walt Disney or the visual designers of A New Hope never read A Pattern Language (the first edition was released in 1977), but many of the book's principles are intuitively sound. Many designers have intuitively used many of these same patterns long before this book ever existed (they're often that intrinsic), not only utilizing the language but also intentionally misusing it for dramatic effect.
Note: There is a Pattern Language website, but it cost money and doesn't have a clear interface – it's jumbled – which is ironic given the nature of their book. A Pattern Language cost around $40 at Amazon.
March 30, 2006
Amanda Spielman, the genius behind New Ephemera, has been kind enough to visit Tinselman and reveal exclusive cultural secrets from her mythical city. We welcome her comments (from the previous New Ephemera post):
Each October New Ephemera holds a Dark Chocolate Festival where chocolatiers from all over the world come to taste and to educate themselves. For 12 days, dark chocolate is made available for free to everyone in the city. Of course, New Ephemera also produces an excellent milk chocolate, but it's the dark chocolate that inspires awe.
Not having any information about the location of the Dark Chocalate Festival, I deduced (rough guess) that it may place somewhere within the red areas that I drew on her map. But probably not. I hope that Amanda will further enlighten us on this and more exciting ephemeral truths!
March 29, 2006
Thinking of Urville
The very first plans for the city of Urville were made out of Legos by a 5 year old boy with Aspergers. Today, the 28 year old Gilles Trehin still works away on his imaginary city, evolving it into something that seems very believable. As Trehin says,
I made many (200) drawings of Urville and I wrote a historical, geographical, cultural, and economical description. I also have a book project called "Sight Seeing Tour of Urville" that I'd love to publish. My greatest pleasure is to be invited to give a lecture on Urville because I can make it exist!
There's a interesting short film about Trehin; view it here. Please take a look! Also, his Urville book is now for sale (though it won't be coming out until later this year) and, if you really like his work, you can even purchase one of his original hand drawings.
(via: Athanasius Kircher Society)
March 28, 2006
Welcome to the town of New Ephemera, a "radiant landscape", a "magical vacation", far from the cold drudgery of everyday existence. As the tourist pamphlet says,
New Ephemera exhilarates, awakening the senses to new experiences as well as to those things usually taken for granted. Stroll down its cafe-lined streets, admire its monuments and great works of art, absorb the sun on its beaches... Stay awhile and you will see why New Ephemera is called City of Fleeting Fulfillment.
Oh, but it gets better. The city's leading industries are winemaking and bookbinding. A visitor can take delight wandering the halls of the vegetation museum or maybe just take a dip in the Subterranean Honey Baths. Plastic trees are banned in New Ephemera (the punishment for possession of fake foliage is a heavy fine and potential imprisonment) and bicycles are the primary mode of transportation.
I'm almost sad to say that New Ephemera isn't a real place. It is, as it's name implies, a fictional destination and the project of design student Amanda Spielman. Spielman created a tourist pamphlet to hand out to morning commuters on a Manhattan-bound train in an attempt to lift the spirits of a dull commute. She didn't anticipate the reaction and was surprised when over 20 people called, asking about vacation details to New Ephemera!
To learn more about this exquisitely executed fictional location, read this short article at Metropolis Magazine. Or take a look at the PDF of Spielman's original pamphlet (and print copies... confound your friends)!
• Calcata, Italy, a crushed web of tunnels, stairs, twisting paths, balconies and archways, is a real city that may be more inticing than New Ephemera...
March 02, 2006
Yesterday's Transport of Tomorrow
What a day you've had browsing through the 1900 Paris Expo! You've just taken a ride on the Mareorama and now you're relaxing in front of the stunning Palais Lumineux. You sigh: it's all been so staggering, so futuristic, but now it's finally time to head on home.
Which would be fine except your feet and legs are a raging fire. All this walking, walking, walking and you swear you can almost hear the sound of your shoes crushing and twisting your poor flesh and bones into grossly unnatural shapes (especially because, in 1900, it is the fashion for you to wear a full shoe size too small or, if you're a woman, to have had your smallest toes cut off). No problem... to ease the pain you hop on board the moving boardwalk.
The Moving Boardwalk. Of all the glitz and glamour and the expo, you can't help but be most impressed by this seemingly simple mechanism. This, you think, this could be the future: speeding through crowded thoroughfares, zooming down to the neighborhood coffee shop, or maybe even finally even making it to that next airport terminal just in time! All with the help of these new-fangled sidewalks.
Pressing forward a bit and what ever happened to all these moving sidewalks (besides the ones in airports)? Seemingly the dream was forgotten. But not by everyone; Mr. Walt Disney kept it alive for awhile. And then some!
Disneyland was chock full of clever transportational devices. Monorails, trains, People Movers, tram cars, boats, buggies, and yes, even a few moving sidewalks. Walt was big into this transportation thing: from an entertainment point of view, convenient transportation was the key to getting tired guests off their feet and keeping them happy. But perhaps more importantly, these vehicles were all part of Walt's vast laboratory – Disneyland was his place to tinker, evolve and perfect some of the hardware required for his much larger vision: a city. This is why Walt was probably flattered when James W. Rouse, Urban Developer of the New Town of Columbia, said in his keynote address before the 1963 Urban Design Conference at Harvard University:
I may hold a view that may be somewhat shocking to an audience as sophisticated as this; that the greatest piece of urban design in the United States today is Disneyland... I find more to learn in the standards that have been set and in the goals that have been achieved in the development of Disneyland than in any other piece of physical development in the country.
Walt revealed EPCOT in October, 1966. EPCOT, the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. EPCOT was to be "showcase city", a continually evolving community that "doesn't presume to know all the answers," but would take it's cue, Walt said, "from the new ideas and new technologies that are now emerging from the creative centers of American industry. It will," he said, "be a community of tomorrow that will never be completed, but will always be introducing, testing and demonstrating new materials and new systems."
Following in the footsteps of Disneyland, EPCOT would be based on central urban hub encircled by an outer wheel of radial housing, schools, parks and recreation. Transportation "spokes" would run inhabitants to and from the heart of the city. (Which so far reminds me of a much older and smaller city, Palmanova.)
But EPCOT parts ways from its Italian predecessor with a much more serious implementation of the monorails and People Movers that were pioneered at Disneyland. The city is described as relying on a vastly complex public transportation system, to the extent that inhabitants are "completely safe and seperated from the automobile." There would be an underground level for car travel but public transportation would be preferred simply because there would be zero wait time for the next People Mover.
I can't help but have negative feeling about Walt's EPCOT. Not because I think he couldn't have pulled it off – I've no doubt he could have – but because I don't agree philosphically with the reasoning behind it. Nonetheless, I encourage you to take a look at this short film, in which he describes his first rough plans for the city. It's fascinating. Keep in mind it's the last film he ever made... Walt died later that year and his great dream never came to fruition.
And while you're at it, take a step back to 1900 and watch this short film of the Paris Expo moving boardwalk.
Note: The current EPCOT at Disney World in Florida holds no resemblance to Walt's EPCOT. Anyone who's ever been to it is only too aware that they are required to walk for (what seems like) hundreds of miles... in the blistering sun. It is pure hell. There is no transportation of any kind. There are only your blistered feet and your screaming kids who want to leave because they hate the place and you're trying tell them that it's great but you hate it too. This is not the EPCOT of Walt's dream. This is what Walt would roll over in his grave at (except he's frozen)... Miseryland and Tragic Kingdom.
Note 2: The People Mover, the Skyway Tram. These have been removed from Disneyland. God knows why. (But
why God? Why?) And then that big gold (flashy) monstrosity in
Tomorrowland! Yes it certainly does catch everyones eyes! We all gasp!
And run to Huck Finn's island. Ahh... relaxation.
a. Moving Boardwalk, Paris Expo
b. Disneyland transporation
c. Walt Disney and EPCOT
d. EPCOT radial design
e. Palmanova aerial photo
f. People Mover
February 08, 2006
Little Boxes on the Hillside
This is not a computer rendering. It's real. It's Mexico City in rainbow technicolor, and in your face from the air. To me, this low-income neighborhood (in Ixtapaluca) looks a bit like a graveyard – a very colorful graveyard. Like it's trying to be happy in the midst of... what. I don't know. Happy happy! Bright bright!
The photo was taken by a helicopter pilot who used to fly over Mexico City. The entire photo set is equally provoking; you won't be sorry to take a look. Or... click on the images above and below for larger versions.
a. Barrio Tepito – Market for anything
b. Giant cemet man
c. Central de Abasto – Enormous food market
d. Mercado Sobre Ruedas – Small food market
Photographs copyright © www.imagenesaereasdemexico.com. All rights reserved.
August 13, 2005
Rama feel that he makes his decisions from an aesthetic point of view. So, feeling it was time to brighten up those dull communist-era grays (and they can be really depressing, if you've ever seen them in person), he ordered what he called an "intervention" and had all those old buildings painted like giant abstract paintings. Then he had trees planted. Then trash cleaned up. And that's just the beginning. Evidently, there are many more Rama-esque changes to come. He says that being mayor is the "most exciting job in the world, because I get to invent everyday and to fight for good causes everyday. Being the mayor is the highest form of conceptual art. It's art in a pure state."
To be fair, Rama does has his critics.
More links links on Tirana:
• World Mayor 2004 - Edi Rama, recipient
• Photos of Tirana – people
• Photos of Tirana – painted buildings
• Trendy Tirana? – The Christian Science Monitor
• Styling Edi Rama (photograph)
• Google Maps view of Tirana
June 26, 2005
Varanasi the Holy
I stumbled across this great photo of Varanasi, taken from the Ganges. Not only is Varanasi one of the oldest cities in the world, it's also one of Hindu's and Buddhism's holiest.
June 21, 2005
This is the medieval town of Calcata, Italy. Founded on a cliff-top, with no room to grow, it ultimately has evolved into a crushed web of tunnels, stairs, twisting paths, balconies and archways. All of this makes for an curiously inticing town: the kind of place that seems to lure the innocent tourist into its maze-like interior... then never lets him go. It's true. A number of people, especially visiting artists, have been seduced by Calcata's dangerously hypnotic charms; they've moved in and never left, transforming Calcata into a virtual modern-day art colony.