Saturday, December 17, 2011

Usher Returns to Second Life: Adding What Students Want

The Return of the House of Ush... 
Location: Glasgow Caledonian University

Thanks to the kindness of Evelyn McElhinney and her colleagues at GCU, I have a large and tier-paid parcel and many prims to use. A Version of the House of Usher from the Jokaydia Grid build, plus the Visitor Center from Richmond Island, is now returning to Second Life.

Though I won't be teaching Poe for some time, starting this Spring I will have the House open for others' classes if they wish to explore on their own. With some warning, I can gather the Ushers and some new characters for improvisational acting in the simulation.

I am delighted to be back on the Lindens' grid, because SL offers affordances that OpenSim does not, yet. That said, I'm a two-house educator now. I will maintain and continue to improve the Jokaydia Grid simulation, but I can bring in some features that SL offers to address a few student concerns.  In this post, I'll focus on what students said about the physical nature of simulation and its setting, rather than the preparation or execution of the tasks facing the actors and their guests. That merits its own later post.
  • More interactive content for more immersion. Students wanted easier navigation in places, and more confusion/claustrophobia in others. In the earlier SL sim, I'd learned that the House's Crypt was too straightforward, but even with the OpenSim build, some students noted that the rooms were too large and the layout too easy. Only one asked for a map. I will also add more moving walls, trap doors, and cul-de-sacs. Students wanted more of a sense of danger, too. As Jake said, "Adding more animated noises and trap doors would add to the whole enveloping experience." 
  • Simpler movement: One problem singled out were the spiral stairs to Madeline's chamber. I was quite proud of them at one time, but once put inside a tower these proved hard to climb for non-gamers, now replaced by Enktan Gully's 1L Elizabethan staircase (shown below). 
  • More gloom: Others noted that lighting was too bright, and rooms too large to match the oppressive feeling of Poe's tale. That's easy to remedy, with some new walls, doors, and dead-ends. Griffin, who regularly plays games, enjoyed the sandbox nature of the simulation but suggested that the island did not seem dark enough. The SL build will be inside a huge, starry bubble and the lighting will be as dim as possible.
    Staircase!
  • We need to die, Prof. Poe's characters are often in mortal danger, and at least half of the 15 respondents said in their final exam: give us a combat system. Elon claimed that "giving Roderick true ways to threaten his guests would make the experience exponentially more fascinating. What should be done, ultimately, is that the user should feel that they might 'game over' or that their avatars can die."  
  • HUD time: I am looking at purchasing some content to provide a HUD and, in one or two places around the house, a scripted ancient weapon or two for the avatars to use if the simulation demands it. SL's many roleplaying HUDs provide opportunities to be drowned, burned to a crisp, shot full of holes, or impaled on pointy things. Something like the Spellfire system would be perfect.
  • Fashion! Three of fifteen respondents mentioned that they wanted to be able to customize their avatars more.
  • Quote the Raven (but just in text chat). Tucker stated what he and at least three other classmates felt about text-chat, noting "As practical as the chat system was, I believe that it would create a greater sense of immersion if we had headsets on and were able to private chat through typing instead." 
  • More special effects: A lack of sound was lamented by five participants. Other than creaking doors, I did not have time to record the variety of sounds I had planned for the Jokaydia Grid simulation. In SL and OpenSim I will add them, plus some stock sounds for the SL build that we used in 2009 and 2010. As Lauren put it, "lightning, rain, thunder, screams, ghoulish noises, creepy piano music would have been a nice addition to the setting the virtual realities of the Ushers."

1 comment:

Grizzla said...

Of course, Roderick did manage to kill off a few of us who strayed too near the cliffs...