Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Interviews with Second Life Gardners

In my exploration of Gardens in Second Life, a most enjoyable aspect was in meeting and chatting with the developers of these remarkable places. I thank each for having taken the time to meet and answer my questions as well as for their efforts and commitment to making these enchanting spots available to us all in SL.

Isablan Neva (IN) – SL Botanical Gardens
Zanza Marx (ZM) – Midsomer
Kelian Axon (KA) – Tranquility Garden
Dane Zander (DZ) – Lost Garden of Apollo

Nazz Lane: Do you garden in real life? How much influence did that have on your design here? What drew you to gardening in SL?

IN: Yes, I have been slowly landscaping my RL yard for the past 5 years. Unfortunately, gardening in RL is much more time consuming than gardening in SL :) I've even looked into getting the education required to become a professional landscape designer based on how much I find myself loving and doing it. My RL house is well known in the neighborhood for both being purple and having a beautiful yard. My RL garden didn't have much influence on The Botanical Gardens, but there was considerable influence from my visits to the Huntington Botanical Gardens (Los Angeles, CA), Villa D' Este (outside of Rome, Italy) and the Vizcaya Gardens (Miami, Florida.) At all of those places I found myself fantasizing about what it would be like to have a house surrounded by grounds like those. I was drawn into gardening in SL by early experiences at A Change of Fate (in Dore, still standing last I checked) and Lilones Retreat (no longer in SL). They were two of my early favorite spots. When I bought my first land, I couldn't see any sense in putting down a house and decided I was going to live in a garden in a gazebo. Eventually, 117 prims was just not enough and I needed a bigger garden, so I found a great piece of land in Federal and built the first SL Botanical Gardens, which eventually expanded to cover 1/4 of the sim.

ZM: I have loved gardens my entire life. My father was an avid gardener who also had to have ponds in our yards. When I was young and we would take camping trips, I would find a small area, lay moss as sod, design a meandering pine needle path, and line it with tiny drooping bluebell flowers as lamps along the pathway, believing I had made it for the forest faery folk. Today in rl I live on 3/4 acre in the country in the Rocky Mountains, under a canopy of dozens of stately Cottonwoods, among several varieties of berry bushes, some apple trees, and old fashion bearded and wild irises, wild roses springing up everywhere and a creek running through the back. Sound vaguely familiar? In SL, my 'First Land' I acquired my first week here became a garden. Not large enough, I bought the adjoining plot. Still not large enough, I sold it and bought a bigger plot surrounded by water and carved a river through it. That, of course, led to a sim. I guess I just can't help myself.

KA: I love to garden in my real life, my passion is herbs and I will spend hours sowing seeds, potting on and tending my thriving herb patch. I also very much enjoy ornamental ponds and have great fun in watching birds, insects and occasionally foxes and hedgehogs come to the water’s edge or in the birds cases (evil Heron) try to make off with my rather round goldfish and koi. I have to admit I have bought some of my real garden to my virtual one in the form of picking flowers that I know well from growing them in my real garden from a very young age and of course, the koi.

DZ: Unfortunately, no. I live in the city, but plan to buy a house and garden real soon. I built the Lost Gardens of Apollo because at the time, not many real gardens or parks existed in SL. Especially large places were missing - places to explore and get "lost" in.

Nazz Lane: Pretty much any outdoor space where one TP's into has a garden, why do you think gardens in SL have so much appeal?

IN: I think green space provides warmth and atmosphere. Nature is a beauty all of its own and it adds a sense of life where ever it appears. People tend to find nature calming and regenerative. Even Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs said "I want a window where I can see a tree." If you look at two streets; one with just concrete and glass and one with the same concrete and glass but lined with trees you will tend to be drawn more the street lined with the trees. It will seem a more pleasant place to be. Because this is true in RL, it becomes part of the way we build in SL since we generally tend to imitate RL here; we are most comfortable with that which we know as opposed to the unknown. I actually think there isn't near enough nature in SL. I TP into a lot of places that have been divested of even the Linden Trees as landowners look to maximize prims and space, which is really a shame.

ZM: I think it has to do primarily with the lack of natural open spaces in rl coupled with increasing daily stress. There is a harmony with our deepest, most primitive emotions when surrounded by nature that brings us that much needed ethereal peace and I think that is what people have found in SL year round. There is a place in SL for gardens to refresh that peaceful spirit in the midst of fantasy and beauty.

KA: Second life is just that, a Second life, people build friendships and relationships there and in turn want places to go where they can relax and talk to others without the adult scene which dominates many areas. Gardens offer a place to forget about clubs and shops and just take the time to take in the beautiful areas SL allows us to create… its much like living in a dream, there are enchanted forests, haunted graveyards and sunny beaches, there is something for everyone and if you can dream it, it can be created.

DZ: Because of the endless bombardment of various building styles on most of the land you see. As in real life, people long for a quiet spot, somewhere to relax. SL living is very compressed in time and very hectic. We all need to relax also from time to time, and everyone using SL daily knows what I mean.

Nazz Lane: What design challenges does the SL gardener face? What other design considerations were taken into account?

IN: Well, you mentioned flying and that is a perpetual bane of many a sim designers existence. Some even hide things where they can't be seen from the air in order to try and force people down to the ground where they will see the sim design as it was intended. If it weren't for the Mirage, which can only be reached by flying, I would probably seriously consider turning off the ability to fly at the Gardens. I can't speak for other gardeners, but some of the things that I planned in include at least a 20m distance between 'hang-out' areas so that chat range doesn't overlap. Also, the pathways are the guides to traveling the island. Without paths to follow people get lost and will miss so many things. Lag is a perpetual issue, especially with a garden on this scale. As you noted, I have a welcome notecard at the entry area and it has dual purposes of 1) imparting information about the sim 2) slowing people down so that things will rez before they start moving too far in. Another consideration is that you don't want people to be able to see too far ahead, you want to draw them forward to see what is around the next corner. I also designed the Gardens so that there are spots for someone who is exploring alone can hang out, there are a few romantic areas for couples and areas where groups of 3 - 6 can all hang out. I didn't want anyone to feel odd being alone here, I've read too many reviews of sims where the reviewer laments that they don't have someone with them to share it with. I wanted The Botanical Gardens to be a place where one could be comfortable alone or with others.

ZM: I can't say how others design their SL gardens or what challenges they may face aside from the ever mindful prim limits but Midsomer was more of an organic design. I started with a rough terrain, added the winding river, and worked with the land guided by my own sense of balance and color to fit my own comfort level. The lovely thing about any garden, in my opinion, is that there is no wrong or right way to do it - it is more an expression of a personal sense of these two components and an individual display of mood. My preference on Midsomer is exactly that - a leisurely walk - so I have tried to make it primarily all accessible by foot with pathways for people and those who enjoy it on horseback or on the backs of tigers or any other such creature they fancy to ride. I also wanted to make it interactive with the chess area, the dining pavilion, the swing, hammock and merry-go-round, and of course, the dance and music areas.

KA: Personally, I have seen very few gardens which can be seen to best advantage any other way than at ground level. The way many plants and trees are created it makes it very difficult to design gardens which can be viewed at all angles so I believe it is best to work from one and focus your creative energies there in order to make it the best you can with whatever prim limits you have. I think as a gardener you have to take into account the surrounding land, some builds in second life can be very imposing and in turn make an impact on the overall feel of joining plots. I’ve had to deal with finding ways of blocking ad boards and sky litter but I have also been very lucky in the fact that I have some wonderful neighbors who appreciate how beautiful Second life can be with a bit of landscaping and consideration of others.

DZ: Well, the main challenge for any designer in SL, gardener or not, is to realize and work with the lack of the USUAL challenges IRL. We don't have to work against gravity, we can fly, we can build at any altitude. We can build micro- or macro environments. A lot of designs in SL are very conventional. What many don't realize is.. We don't really need roofs... doors... walls..... as well as fences and I could go on and on. Many of these elements can be added for decorative purposes but that's about it. The Lost Gardens of Apollo was mainly built for exploring on foot - but since it contains hidden and very tall builds as well, flying is a widely used option.

Nazz Lane: Are the gardens a collaborative effort? Do the contributors create new things for you to add?

IN: They are completely a collaborative effort. I'm adding new stuff all the time, in fact I have two new plant creators to add in the next couple of weeks. Since I don't make plants myself, it works out very nicely for me to showcase other creators' work. With the exception of the greenhouse, all of the structures are my handiwork. All of the plants and trees are by others.

ZM: Actually, I built this based on what I wanted to enjoy...a place to call my home. I opened it to the public not knowing if people would like it or not and honestly, it didn't matter to me if they didn't but I soon learned that this was not the case and many have a very protective attitude toward what Midsomer has become. I do have an Estate Manager, Lara Lycia, my oldest and dearest SL friend, who helps with maintenance now and then when I am not available (ie. resetting dance balls, dealing with greifers, etc.) who does it purely as an act of love. But there are not often problems so I feel quite fortunate.

KA: Tranquility garden is a one man show. I often ask for friends and regular visitors to offer opinions on new features or changes in the hopes that I can continue improving and evolving the garden. I have to say when laying out the garden at the beginning back in early 2006 I didn’t realize what I was getting myself into and at times it’s been a struggle to keep the garden going especially after a few accidents involving auto return and a lovely ‘revert’ button on the landscaping tool. I’ve spent hours, probably days getting it to what it is now and I’m sure many more will be spent there keeping things as they should be.

DZ: The Lost Gardens of Apollo were built by me exclusively. I had moral support and a LOT of patience from my Sr. Estate Manager, Sean Hadlee while building them. He overlooks the Gardens, as well as my Estate Manager Assistants samlowry Hawks, and Flix Zabelin. samlowry is my self appointed "Guardian Angel" of the Gardens, and doing a huge job looking after them many hours a day.

Nazz Lane: How is the virtual garden different then the real garden?

IN: *smiles* well, the biggest differences are in maintenance (none in a virtual garden, as opposed to unending in RL gardens) and the ability to work with different climates within a small area. One thing that is unique about The Botanical Gardens is the variety of climates. Buddha's mountain is all pine and snow covered in the upper portion and then over on the other side you have the Rain Forest and the tropical lagoon. The bird sounds are different in those areas as well.

ZM: In my experiences, I have a hard time keeping deer, rabbits, and woodchucks from eating all of my plants in RL, there’s always weeding, and due to my altitude and climate I am quite limited to the types of plants I have to choose from. Then you have those plants requiring shade or sun, more or less water, etc. In SL there are none of these obstacles. You can clump them and nothing dies out. No need to water or weed. You can invent plants that only exist in the mind's eye. Gravity doesn't have to be taken into consideration should you choose. It's a creator's paradise and I think we will see more fantastical things as SL continues to evolve as well.

KA: Hmm, well with a virtual garden you have no fears of severe weather which is great so you don’t have to deal with flower snapping off, pots blowing all over the place or ground frosts killing off new shoots. The maintenance is minimal, no dead heading flowers, no cutting the grass and best of all you don’t have to worry about going away for a few days and coming back to a group of dried up brown plants. One thing I do miss in the virtual world of gardening is actually seeing things grow from seed up into the adult plant or tree, or even watching a bud open up and bloom over a few hours. Maybe one day all the plants in Second life will have that little spark of magic in them.

DZ: No maintenance! And the ability to build and design something not possible IRL. SOME maintenance is required though - but not of the gardens themselves. The main effort is to keep the gardens a safe, calm environment. So a few unruly visitors are the time robbers mainly. They are dealt with by strict rules and a ban, if not in compliance.

Nazz Lane: How many prims are used in your design?

IN: Right now the sim is using about 12,000 prims. I would guess that 3,000 of that is taken up by my retail operations up in the sky and the rest is the Gardens.

ZM: Aside from the residential plots, Midsomer's main body currently uses roughly 9950 prims. This changes as the Isle evolves.. I am very aware of prims and try to keep a decent amount open for events and to lessen lag so I may swap something for a new build here or there...always aware of those areas that appear to be most popular so that I do not take something that will be missed. No complaints yet.

KA: I believe I’m hitting around 2500 prims but have another 500 in each area giving me another 1000 to use, I’m not planning on using this many though as I do like for visitors to be able to set down their own picnic blankets where they please.

DZ: For the Lost Gardens of Apollo, an estimated 13000 prims, builds included

Nazz Lane: Do you have any future plans for the garden you'd like to share?

IN: I'm debating adding another sim. Beyond that I so much need to finish this one first. There are a lot of places where I really rushed through and never fully completed, such as The Mirage, The Embarcadero and the City of Gold. A visitor probably wouldn't notice that those areas aren't fully finished, but I know they aren't and it drives me crazy. I would like hold more events here at some point, poetry readings, music...etc.

ZM: The only real plan is to update this Class 3 server to a 5 soon and begin some concert events. No concrete plans for the actual garden areas... it is always changing a bit here and there as I learn something new, or create something I think people might enjoy or feel needs expanding, or a mood strikes me. I have dreams of an additional sim as well, so we'll see. What that will be, I can't say yet. An extension of Midsomer to an extent but again, it will most likely grow organically as I go.

KA: I’ve only recently bought a plot in Vine which backs onto the older area of the garden so I am still working on that area. I am always looking to tweak things or to add new items which I feel people may enjoy. Hopefully this extension will open up the garden a little more and attract a few more visitors.

DZ: If at all possible, financially, I would love to expand the Lost Gardens of Apollo with 4 OpenSpace sims. Make water for sailing and swimming, more land, and alleviating a bit of the traffic pressure on the main sim of Apollo. I keep access usually at 50 people max - both to keep the server running smoothly, but also to ensure privacy and to keep it from becoming overcrowded. The sim is almost always at max capacity.

Nazz Lane: Tell me about your favorite places in the Garden. Do you get feedback from your visitors telling you about theirs?

IN: Funny you should ask that. Several places in the sim were developed based on watching how visitors used the Gardens. Two great examples are the area at the top of The Lagoon waterfall and the Rain Forest. I never did anything to create a "hang out" spot up at the top of that waterfall, but over time I started noticing people up there on a regular basis. So, I ended up putting in some float pose balls and a bench to develop it into a destination. With the Rain Forest, I had no idea initially what I was going to do with the storm system made by MenuBar Memorial so I stuck it off in an undeveloped corner and forgot about it. Over time I started noticing people hanging out there enjoying the storm, so I developed that area into a destination as well. I learn a lot from just watching where people spend their time and where they don't. If people aren't hanging out in an area that I developed, then something isn't right there yet and I need to work on it more.

ZM: My favorite spots.. lol.. hmmmm. That is a mood question. I often enjoy the Garden of Sorrows as a restful, reflective spot. The swing has always been one of my favorite 'toys' to simply unwind after a long day. If I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed I sometimes retreat to the underwater ruins to just sit and hide, and sometimes when other areas are busier I will sit by the water with my fishing rod and relax (also a RL enjoyment). I receive many compliments on Midsomer. Many write to simply tell me that they have fallen in love with the Isle and that does my heart good. Aside from the ever popular dance areas, I am amazed at how many have told me that they feel the area on the southwest corner is the most romantic! And there always seems to be someone sitting in the Garden of Sorrows, for relaxing peace if nothing else.

KA: I don’t really have any spots which I could call my favourite, I do however get regular visitors telling me where they like to sit but more often than not I have already guessed due to them being there so often that they become a feature of the garden

DZ: I love the Terazza Romantica, in the SW corner of the sim, facing the sunset. It's semi-private, and has a separate romantic stream. It's a calming spot.. good for conversations, and romantic dates. My guests often write me about the sim. I receive IM's and email daily about their enjoyment of it, and that alone is a great reward and incentive to keep the Gardens running. Almost all have their favourite spots.

Nazz Lane: Do you make seasonal changes?

IN: God no. *laughs* I'm having a hard enough time just finishing the sim. Maybe if I get to a place in my second life when I'm done with the build out and I am down to puttering and tinkering.

DM: I have not done this to date. I have thought about it, as I do enjoy a beautiful white snowy landscape in the winter however, I think it is the appeal of the garden's greenery that people find relaxing. As far as changing flowers to fit the season, that is another wonderful thing about SL... You don't have to. If I change flowers it is usually because I have found something so beautiful and fitting I simply have to add it.

KA: I would love to be able to do things like this but to be honest; I really wouldn’t have the time to make all the changes each season. I live in hope that someday soon someone will create and script trees to change with the season’s, it would be wonderful to see second life moving from the greens of spring and summer to the wonderful orange and reds of autumn.

DZ: I don't. I sometimes change or add builds - and use various parts of the sim for special occasions such as weddings, book readings etc.

Nazz Lane: Are there any favorite garden places you like to visit in SL? What about RL?

IN: My favorite spots (well, other than my own garden) are Bliss Gardens, Cave Rua, A Change of Fate, and Fate Gardens. In RL I live close to the Huntington Botanical Gardens.

DM: I have always enjoyed Botanical gardens in RL... probably because they are so similar to SL - no seasonal changes and they mix everything from so many different climates. I just returned from a resort in India that is so amazing it was like stepping into a RL SL garden! I am hoping for a return visit there in a year. As far as SL goes, if I am not shopping, taking a class, or visiting friends, you will find me on Midsomer. It is my favorite... it is my home.

DZ: Unfortunately, I rarely get to explore these days. I design sims for private clients, so my days are full of that. In real life, an all time favourite of mine is The Tivoli Gardens in the centre of Copenhagen. It is one of the world's oldest amusement parks, and is always brimming with magnificent flowerbeds and arrangements any which where you turn. It's a classic, and a must see for visitors to our fair city :)

No comments: