NaBloPoMo, day 26: another world

(Not the soap opera.)

For years I have been broadly intrigued by the whole virtual-world concept, as best exemplified by the Metaverse of Snow Crash. One big virtual sandbox, the kind of stuff that you’d expect from the future (of which more later). And yet, once you go for an actual graphical environment, it hasn’t quite worked out like that.

The big example everyone points to is Second Life, which has been around for quite some time now. I created an account on it a good six years ago, but did very little with it. There were times, working at my first job in California, when I’d have a powerful machine and a lot of spare time and would just log in and meander around exploring. It was a great way to get away from it all, because it was so sparsely populated that it was easy to stay away from other inhabitants. The problem, though, is that since everything is built, everything has to be rendered. It’s not like a MMORPG where the bulk of the content is stored locally at install and you don’t have to download new sprites for literally everything in your field of vision as it appears.

Like Epic Castle, for instance. This tech demo for the iPhone and iPad is basically just a setting you can walk around. There’s nothing to interface with – no objects or enemies or other players. All you can do is walk around on the set of the game. And not a huge set, for that matter – but so well rendered and visually appealing that it’s a great place to disappear into for five-space. And since it’s all local to the phone, there’s no networking to deal with.

In between, of course, is the MMORPG, exemplified by World of Warcrack. Er, Warcraft. It was HUGE when I worked at Apple, such that some of my co-workers were in on the original beta. I tried to get into it, I really did, but it lasted for about two weeks in 2005. A big part of that was down to the fact that it ran like crap on a 12″ PowerBook G4. A bigger part of it was the fact that it was, well…work. Run run run run run run run run run run run, kill two wolves, run run run run run run run run run run run run run run run run run, trade skins for mug of cider, run run run run run run run run run run run run run run run run run, get gold for cider…stupefyingly boring, and that’s before getting to levels where you basically have to coordinate with large groups of people to “raid” – look, the only thing I’m organizing a group of people for involves drankin’ and Irish rebel songs.

Problem is, I would like a wide-open sandbox-type environment, but it’s so bloody difficult to do – your options are basically fantasy game or sluggish as hell. Thing is, I am given to understand that the coming thing is Lego Universe, which adds some whimsy to what should theoretically be the kind of broad-spectrum experience I’d like to try out. I’m curious to see if they split the difference. Then again, I’m having a hard time thinking of the last video game that I played for more than 20 minutes before going on to something else…

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