Floating First Contact at the Con

May 13, 2021
May 13, 2021 Poison Toocool

Floating First Contact at the Con

by Fleet Captain Jorden Allen…

It’s always a fantastic opportunity when we get to represent United Federation Starfleet at the various conventions and events in Second Life, especially when we get to do it as part of a charitable event, like the Sci-Fi Con.

Usually, UF Starfleet is just an exhibitor at these events: we donate some money to the charity and in exchange we get a booth on one of the sims.

For Sci-Fi Con 13, we’ve been incredibly privileged to be trusted to build not only a booth, but actually sponsor an entire sim, based on the initiative of Lieutenant Commander Drewski Northman.

Building a sim is no small task, and usually takes a large team of people to make it happen, even though it’s often the main builder who gets the main credit, presumably because their contribution is the most visually tangible.

This year at Sci-Fi Con 13, there are 8 sims, each with their own unique theme and build team, and more than a hundred individual exhibitors. The Sci-Fi Con organisation team does a lot of the work behind the scenes to organise all of this. Before I got involved, they had already started working with the charity, with Linden Labs, and already locked in the general layout of the convention, how the sims would connect to each other, what the themes and build teams would be, and even already started assigning booths to exhibitors. They have been in regular communication with us (the UFS build team) to make sure that we deliver to the expectations and general rules of the convention, which includes things as minute as making sure the walkway is the same width throughout the convention, or that the parcels were organised correctly for the exhibitors. It’s hard to understate how much work has been going on behind the scenes.

Prior to my involvement, LTCmdr Northman had already proposed the idea of a ‘Floating First Contact’, revisiting one of the worlds the USS Maxwell had visited on a recent survey mission, a gas giant in the Neamhan system. Once it became confirmed that the Sci-Fi Con organisers liked this idea and would trust us to build the sim, then I was asked to be involved in helping make it happen.

Going from the first concept art to something more concrete proceeded in a variety of ways, and indeed our first attempts were very short lived. We had some ideas that were a little more organic, some that were more steampunk & air pirate themed, before ending up with the final design.

One of the biggest updates to Second Life in the last year has been the introduction of the Environment Enhancement Project, EEP for short. EEP is basically a replacement for Windlight, which is the Second Life system used to change the atmospheric effects, to have a slightly different coloured sky, water, lighting system. EEP has completely revolutionised what we can do with atmospheric settings, it has many layers, we can replace not only the colours, but also the textures of the waves, the clouds, the sun, and the moon. We can change the optical properties, making the air more densely refracting, and so on, and we can make it so that everybody can have their world changed the minute they step onto the sim. I really wanted to use this new and powerful tool to have this effect on our visitors, to make it feel like you truly were visiting a new world, a gas giant in the Neamhan system, as soon as you arrived on the sim.

One of the great challenges, but also unique opportunities, of designing a sim that is meant to represent a location in the atmosphere of a gas giant, is that you don’t have a surface. This allows us to really play with verticality in a way that the other sims in the exhibition haven’t been able to, because they are locked to ground level. We wanted to have many different levels to the sim, to give the feeling of a fluid-like atmosphere, there is flow to how the buildings are floating on the clouds below, and I hope this gives a dynamic and vivid feeling to the build. Similarly we wanted to think about what kind of life forms would exist on the planet? Can we find similar kinds of flora and fauna in Second Life? Do we need to make it ourselves? What should the sim sound like? How do we minimise, as much as possible, the lag that plagues the bigger events like Fantasy Faire? And so many other questions that go into designing a sim. Any custom mesh was made by me using Blender. Custom LCARs about the lore of the planet was written by LTCmdr Northman. The graphic design was created in Affinity Designer by yours truly as well. The EEP settings were made by me using Firestorm’s built in EEP tools, and of course, a lot of what you see comes also from commercial providers.

The biggest challenge for me personally has been that, on our sim alone, we are responsible for making an environment and supporting the setup of 25 different exhibitors, that span the entire gamut of sci-fi worlds. We have multiple Star Wars exhibitors and Star Trek exhibitors. Even some Firefly and Marvel exhibitors. And some that are completely unique to Second Life. This is a huge challenge because they all have their own style and needs, and expectations for what they want from the sim design to make their booths happen. Every exhibitor has their own unique questions and requests, and it has been a lot of work daily to keep everyone happy. In the past, we would be the ones stressing out to get our booth in place, this time, we’re also on the other side, trying to help the others make it happen. For some of the smaller exhibitors, we even had to prepare a build for them, and they could simply focus on the interior decoration.

I must say, when it comes to the UFS booth itself, my involvement has been limited to the exterior build, i.e, the dome and its engine room. Vice Admiral Kermie Mistwallow and his team have provided the rest. Fleet Captain Lizzy Gracemount made a lot of custom posters and textures for the booth. The interior decoration was largely inspired by the incredibly stylish work being done by Commodore Cyril Barthelmess at Pinastri HQ, and uses a combination of mesh assets either made commercially by content creators in Second Life, or are various bits of custom mesh that I’ve been making as part of an ongoing ‘mesh update’ for UFS assets (such as our new 3D UFS logo, the signposts, padds etc).

I have no idea where the jokes came from — certainly not this Andorian. Needless to say, for just the UFS booth, and also for the sim at large, it’s been a big team effort, and so many people deserve recognition and credit for it. I feel incredibly honoured that LTCmdr Northman trusted me to make his vision a reality, that the UFS members involved in events and publicity trusted us to put on the best face for UFS in the process, and that Sci-Fi Con-13 organisers gave us this opportunity.

I hope that people enjoy the event, I hope that they like the sim that we have designed for them, that the creativity and execution leaves a positive and lasting impression on people, and ultimately, that everybody involved in the convention, exhibitors and participants alike, enjoy the convention, enjoy the builds and activities going on throughout the event, and help us raise money for a good cause.

I encourage all UFS members who are reading this while the convention is still ongoing to, if they have time, visit the convention, visit the UFS booth, and donate generously to the American Cancer Society.

Sci-Fi Con-13 runs in Second Life from May 13th to May 24th exclusive. You can access the UFS booth at this Slurl: http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Floating%20First%20Contact/137/200/42


Note: Photos by Captain Hal Jordan

, , , , ,