racing track

The AK-1RA Sports, retail version
 

Note the filling station to the right—straight out of the Gernsback Continuum: “During the high point of the Downes Age they put Ming the Merciless in charge of designing California gas stations.”—William Gibson

On 23 August 2007 I spawned at Detect Surface‘s working platform, high in the sky above the (SLurl:) City of Abaddon. Detect was just about to finish the colour-changing head-up display (HUD) for the motorcycle he was constructing since quite some time. When he saw me he asked, if I’d help him and testdrive the bike—I became (SLurl:) D&D Creative Labs‘ testpilot. During testing I duly reported, like: “Houston, we’ve got a script error …,” as of course the run made some weaknesses of the prototype visible. Once they were documented acid Zenith spawned and started to sort the scripting. D and acid threw code to and fro, while I was careening around the platform on the bike. The physics of the vehicle are marvelous, making it bank and slide when turning, the nose-pitch being controllable on the ground and airborne—but everything subdued to the Havoc engine’s physics environment. This lends the bike a tremendous amount of gameplay value, seldomly found in Second Life (SL). Just like the bow and arrows acid made—my reporting on that is overdue—, the bike is made according to the principle “easy to use, but hard to master.” Once the bike is in your possession and you are sitting on it, you can immediately drive around by using the WASD-keys for direction and acceleration, and page-up and -down for the nose-pitch … easy to use. But in order to run around a racing course in an acceptable time, or for doing trial-tricks and stunts, you have to develope skills, because you have to deal with the physics, the bike’s inertia in particular … hard to master.
 

AK-1RA Sports prototype
 

23 August 2007—me on the working platform, mounted upon the (SLurl:) AK-1RA Sports prototype. Note my neither being cyber-enhanced, nor wearing protective garment … I got the wiser later on.

During my first test-run on the bike once I came close to the platform’s edge and had to turn it around in a powerslide, just centimeters from falling into the abyss. “That was close,” I commented. D pondered that a second, and then remarked: “Well, yeah, we need a li’l more space for the bikes …” After an hour or so more, I had to log off. Only later I learned that D had been up all night building … when I came to the spot the next day, Friday 24 August 2007, the once spartanic working platform looked like this:
 

Flux
 

(SLurl:) The racing track was born— a full-fledged racing course for competing on the AK-1RA Sports. With that track testdriving could go into its next stage. My first runs over the course made me even more enthusiastic about the bike, as now I was able to experience its full potential. D layed out a wonderful course, and, due to his masterful optimizing, his whole Sim—in stark contrast to most of SL—seldomly lags for me. My saying still stands uncorrected: The gang at Abaddon indeed manages to make “a real computer game” out of SL. Alas, SL is a strange beast, and during the testruns I several times was blown out into nonspace, which ultimately led to my crashing … and the whole Sim crashed with me. Detect fathomed the reasons behind that effect and started to adjust the scripting accordingly. He also discovered that when you crashed with the bike, the physics didn’t die, but lay around orphaned and invisible at the spot of the crash, the scripts in it still running. This of course puts load on the Sim in question. The more orphaned bike physics lieing around, the more prone the Sim will be to lagging, and maybe crashing even. So, while D again turned engineer and solved the technicalities, his faithful testpilot turned on “highlight transparency” and walked two times all around the racing course, collecting orphaned physics, and looking for glitches in the track, marking them with red beacons. Well, that’s part of the everyday job of a testpilot, too. Our job doesn’t purely consist out of romantically zooming through the skies in never-seen-before bolides. Plus, honestly, I don’t want to run at breakneck speed into an invisible obstacle loitering around on the testing course.
 

Flux
 

On 27 August 2007 I found a completely reworked and enlarged racing course. Detect had added several levels, more of the huge, slanted 180° turns, and parts of the track running through futuristic tunnels, making the course as complex, difficult, and in parts as claustrophobic as the F1-course at Monte Carlo. I still can’t every time reliably master the dark, downward slanted curve in those dreaded tunnels. Plus, acid has scripted a stopwatch system maintaining a list of the fastest laps. My best so far was 103 sec, acid’s undisputed record stands at 97 sec. Here’s a snapshot of us all three racing through one of the tunnels:
 

Detect, acid, and zeph
 

To the far left, sitting on the frontwheel, looking ahead, is Detect Surface. On the steering handle, piloting: acid Zenith. Yours Truly meditates on the rear wheel.

Now, what has all this to do with anthropology, or cyberanthropology, despite the fact that it clearly is participant observation, or better: thick participation online?
 

The fieldwork of this project, which I began in 2002 within the Max-Payne modding-community, from start on happened in three spaces:
 

First there are the conceptual communication- and interaction spaces made possible by the Internet-infrastructure, respectively by the various Internet-services like www, e-mail, IM, IRC, [VoIP,] and ftp running on top of it. […]
 

The second kind of space is multiplayer gamespace [and cognitively shared singleplayer gamespace]. […]
 

And there still is a third kind of spaces cognitively shared by the members of a modding-community. They are computer-generated, but not situated ‘between the phones’: The at first glance unfathomable black voids of diverse 3d-editors’ viewports.

Despite of all its shortcomings, drawbacks and glitches, with SL an amazing feat has been accomplished: The integration of a row of human-to-machine and mediated human-to-human interaction possibilities into one, malleable platform. The fusion of several computer-generated spaces, if you wish. What only some years ago still were distinct dimensions for the interacting members of online communities, now can be experienced via a single interface, the SL client. In respect to game design, developing, and modding it is especially interesting, that within SL potential gamespace and editor space are one and the same. Quite trivially that means that SL-space is multi-user editor-space. I can be present while Detect builds geometry, and if he would grant me permission to edit his objects, we could work on one and the same digital object simultaneously, both of us having the same possibilities of viewing and working. While working on Doom, the two Johns already did multiplayer level editing. John Romero relates:
 

In fact, with the superpower of NeXTSTEP, one of the earliest incarnations of DoomEd had Carmack in his office, me in my office, DoomEd running on both our computers and both of us editing one map together at the same time. I could see John [Carmack] moving entities around on my screen as I drew new walls. Shared memory spaces and distributed objects. Pure magic.

This pure magic is a dream, a vision which is driven forward ever farther, as if I got John Carmack right, this is exactly what he wants to achieve with id Tech 5, the latest generation of his game engines.
 

William Gibson can deny this as long as he wants ;-) … but today’s online technologies and game engines start to exactly realize at least parts of his vision of cyberspace as to be found in the Sprawl-novels and short stories.
 

A moment of rest at Bar Substance
 

D&D Creative Labs’ testpilot having a rest at the City of Abaddon’s (SLurl:) Bar Substance, his online Gentleman Loser. And, yes, meanwhile I several times managed it to jump through the breakable glass windows you see in the background. I hope Summer Axon, the proprietress of Substance won’t catch me with the bike inside her bar :-)
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