Second Skies

From Second Skies

Second Skies Design Philosophy

There are a number of principles I try to hold to while building for Second Skies. While designing and building things in Second Life, there comes many points where you have to go one way or the other on something, and there's no right answer, it's a matter of what you value more, and whichever way you go, you gain something but you lose something else. Thus, these principles don't represent a better way, but they do represent the Second Skies way.

Operational Simplicity

To as large a degree as possible, remove the necessity for the user to manual initiate actions that are fairly common sense. For example, if you get into any of my aircraft and throttle up, the engines start and the craft moves. You never have to speak "start" on a chat channel to get things going, unlike some other aircraft, where they do nothing if you throttle up without having first said "start". I know as a scripter that they're receiving the throttle up keystrokes, what do they think I want to do, flood the engine? I don't see the need to add extra commands when the ones you have are perfectly indicative of what the user desires. Keep the interface simple, don't throw in extra commands when you can figure out what the user wants without.

Likewise, my airplanes have no "gear up/gear down" commands, they simply retract the gear when you're going fast enough, and extend them when you slow down to speeds that wouldn't keep the aircraft up anyhow. I could throw in extra commands to do this, but linking it to the throttle just makes things easier for the user. You can keep your hands on the flight controls while flying, and not have to be "chatting" with your plane all the time.

Realism vs. Realism

A lot of people will claim such-and-such a vehicle is more realistic than some other, or that some feature is or isn't realistic, but rarely is the truth that clear-cut. True realism isn't to be found in Second Life, and what usually happens is something has to give for something else, so the more realistic you try to make it in some respect, the less realistic is becomes in another. So whenever someone claims something is more realistic, it's important to ask, in what way?

I always strive for experiential and capabilities realism over alternatives. I'll give a couple of examples of how this plays out in practice.

First, consider my largest zeppelin, the SSA-1931 Prometheus. It is not physically realistic. The amount of internal volume devoted to lifting gas bags is too small compared to the overall volume. However, that's not the kind of realism I was going for. One of the features of the great zeppelins of the mid 20th century was that they had a great deal of internal room. Consider the USS Akron, which had multiple decks, cabins, storage, and even a hangar for fighter planes inside its envelope. I wanted the Prometheus to capture the feel of being aboard one of the great airships, while still being workable within the constraints imposed by the Second Life platform. A realistic gas ratio would leave an unrealistically small amount of internal space, but realistically simulating the amount of usable internal space would result in unrealistic physics. Given my commitment to experiential realism, I ignored the physics. Either way I went, the craft would be less realistic in some way than if I went the other, so I chose to mimic the experience more closely, not the physics.

My other example of this is in how my aircraft fly. What annoys me most about many SL aircraft is their inability to do something you can do easily in a real aircraft or a realistic flight simulator: execute a slow, lazy turn. This is a failure in capabilities realism (I can't do with it what I could do in real life), although ironically the reason for the failure in realism is due to the creator's desire to maximize realism, in this case, realism of the controls: if you move the stick this way, the aircraft should respond in this way. But given that SL has binary controls (you're either holding a key down or not), you can't vary the degree you're giving a control, so your input choice becomes either no stick or hard left, nothing in between. The aircraft responds realistically to what a real airplane would do if you gave it that much stick, but it's unrealistic from a capabilities standpoint because you now can't do in it things that you could do in a real aircraft. I prefer capabilities realism, so instead my aircraft are essentially fly-by-wire. You use the keys to indicate what you want the aircraft to do, and it interprets the response and flies accordingly. So, the controls are less realistic, but the end result is more realistic flight, insofar as you can easily do what you could easily do in a real aircraft, but couldn't do in the simulated aircraft if the controls were realistically simulated. One realism has to give so the other realism can be achieved.

These are always tough choices, and there's no right answer, it all depends on what you value more. So, now you know my values: experience and capabilities are important; controls and the laws of physics are too, but less so. In a conflict between the two, the latter must yield to the former.

The Right to Modify

If a buy a car, there's nothing that prevents me from, the moment I get home, repainting it, ripping out the stereo and replacing it, adding a spoiler on the back, or doing whatever I want to it. That's because it's mine. Now, if I was just leasing it rather than owning it, maybe I couldn't do that.

A lot of vehicle manufacturers don't sell you a vehicle, they just lease it to you. You can whip it out and fly it whenever you like, but just try to adjust the seat and you're in for a rude surprise: the object is 'no-modify'. You can't make the wings longer, you can't move the seat back, you can't even paint your name on the body. It's not really yours, so don't even try to modify it.

Not so at Second Skies. I never buy anything without modify permissions (unless it's really cheap), and I don't expect you to either. Indeed, I encourage you to modify my stuff! I'm collecting an impressive gallery of screenshots, and will soon be adding a new page to this site, highlighting some of the more creative and excellent mods people have made. I love to see what my customers do with my stuff. It's a great feeling seeing them make it truly their own.

I've had products before where a simple modification would have improved it immensely. Something as simple as moving one prim a bit, or altering one texture slightly, or adding one simple script. But I couldn't. A product without modify perms isn't worth a tenth of one that has them. I won't devalue my product by denying any permissions except out of necessarily: no-transfer to prevent piracy, and no-modify on the scripts (or they could be transfered using cut'n'paste), and providing link messages and hooks where I can so you can modify the behavior of scripts with your own.

And more importantly, I won't devalue my customers by acting like my judgement is necessarily superior to theirs on how things should look, or act like any change to my creations is "ruining it". Its your aircraft, it's important that it be the way you want it to be, not how I wanted it to be -- make it your own. And have fun!