Monday, January 12, 2009

INSILICO — RPG of the year

Seven months ago, the INSILICO RPG in Second Life has been launched. It has attracted raving reviews from excited residents because of it's extraordinary visual impact and unusually high-quality. But INSILICO is a RPG, and that means attracting players; and for that, certainly "nice graphics" are required, but a compelling story and a good game design is definitely required to keep players in SL and not just have them go away to the next MMORPG.

Somehow, INSILICO got the formula right. I've just visited it once — INSILICO's rules for "visitors" (ie. non-roleplaying individuals travelling through the sims) are quite harsh, so I didn't want to intrude. From the start, however, it was clear that I had crossed a threshold towards a different SL — one of a very high-quality environment with insanely detailed atmosphere and environment, to the breathtaking level more usually found on some games or even movies, and less on SL. Sure, there are very good builds all over SL; sure, there are more cyberpunk cities in SL, from Nexus Prime (the first ever, constantly being rebuilt) to, say, Suffugium. INSILICO, however, is intense — that's perhaps the best way to describe it. The design is done to make you live and breathe cyberpunk — it's like becoming a character in the Blade Runner movie and looking at the buildings from inside the screen, that's how intense it becomes.

Surprisingly, it's less laggy than I expected — sims with a high prim, high texture count tend to be insanely laggy. But INSILICO was certainly designed by pros, who wish to have 40+ avatars role-playing in the sim all the time (it's amazing!), and that means that lag has to be kept as a minimum. How is that managed? The trick is not to count prims or textures, but polygons. Keep the polygon count low, and your graphics card will thank you — the secret of the huge success of World of Warcraft's very low polygon count, which however has a huge visual impact thanks to excellent design. Well, INSILICO is pretty much designed in the same way. The polygon count is low, but you don't notice it at all, since the graphics and effects are so stunningly designed. Still, you notice the lack of lag, even with all those role-players around.

Seven months after the launch, INSILICO has added two more sims, and judging from the ever-present number of players, it's still growing and growing. That's very good news, knowing that there is a limit to the complexity of a RPG done in SL, specially a free one (INSILICO seems to double as a rental/mall facility to cover up the costs; shops have to be in-theme and are as good as the rest of the content there). It also requires new content, which the designers (led by Skills Hak) certainly have managed to add at a pace higher than most MMORPGs out there (after all, how many MMORPGS triplicate their content in just half a year?).

Not surprisingly, INSILICO earned their spot at Linden Lab's Showcase, as well as one of the machinimas below made by the very talented Daniela Jannings.

At last, in spite of all of LSL's limitations, a bit of Philip's original vision of creating "a platform for game designers" seems to be possible. Oh yes, games have been all over the place for years, as well as MMORPGs, there are quite a lot of those around. INSILICO is just a hallmark of what's best in SL.

Now when newbies pop in at the Help Islands and ask "How do I play this game?" instead of answering "SL is not a game" I'll be happy to say: "Do you like cyberpunk-style MMORPGS? Well, teleport to INSILICO, you'll love playing it".

Enjoy the movies :) If they had just a bit more resolution (and make sure you see them in high quality mode!) you'd be able to shoot videos out of it for Blade Runner II :-) (nice choice of music too ;) )

Friday, January 02, 2009

Dream of the Year: Second Life 2.0

It's obviously fake (specially the release date — "late 2009") but it certainly makes us dream ;)