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Saturday, July 30, 2011

Animals

We’ve talked about being an animal before…but there are other animals in Second Life besides residents wearing an animal avatar.

First of all, unfortunately in my opinion, Second Life does not have anything like an overall “ecology”. The grass and plants are prims and textures. They are more like artificial plastic plants from WalMart than living things. And there are no independent animals. Early in the development of SL, an attempt was made to create some, but these did not end up in the final commercial version of our virtual world.

Clever residents have come up with various ways of filling in this gap. You can see an attempt at a very basic virtual ecology in the Svarga region. There you can find a system of flowers and bees that interact with each other.
Sorry, it was hard to get a pic of the bee!
There are various decorative “wild creatures” you can buy to populate your land. Some of my favorites are fish and sea creatures. You can find “rezzers” that create fish, turtles, rays, or even sharks, with new ones being spat out every minute or so. I have a few of these rezzers in our harbor at Masocado, and I am always getting messages about my sardines or turtles getting returned to my Lost and Found folder when they wander off my property onto the neighbor’s land.

I have a large shark that’s not a temp rez item but a permanent resident. “Bruce” is scripted to swim randomly in a defined area and he will approach you, showing curiosity, if you come within his area of action. Don’t worry, he doesn’t bite! There are sharks that do bite, though…I was eaten by one in a damage-enabled area once.
Nosy Shark
I also have a cute baby seal that will interact with you. You can call to her, pet her, and feed her. The more you are nice to her, the more she likes you, and you can get her to follow you around.
Zoe, my baby!
Penny, my Zooby's Lab
You can buy a pet. The two biggest pet merchants are Virtual Kennel Club (VKC) and Zooby’s. I love the VKC dogs for their artificial intelligence. They will react to you, and they also have some independent behaviors. VKC has an unusual pricing structure…the price of one of their animals goes up a little each time someone buys it. This is, I suppose, one way of determining “all the market will bear”, but I don’t like it. Zooby’s pricing structure is fixed, and their animals are (in my opinion) better looking…but they are not programmed as cleverly as the VKC dogs for independent behavior. They are a little more like operating a puppet than having an animal companion. The latest versions of the animals have gotten much better, however.  VKC sells only dogs, but Zooby’s has a wide variety of other animals as well. 
The Pack at Virtual Kennel Club
For those who can’t afford a free-walking animal, there are shoulder pets. Some of these are merely static attachments to your shoulder, or your hand (though they may contain a pose to allow your avatar to “hold” them). Others are scripted to some extent. I have a little dragon that can wave its tail, blink its eyes, chat, and breathe fire, all in response to commands from an on-screen control panel (a HUD).
Emerald, my firedrake

Then there are “breedables”. The first breedable animals were the Sion Chickens. They have to be fed (and the makers of these and similar creatures make a lot of money selling food for them). The chickens were a huge hit (despite complaints from many residents that the flocks of chickens were causing lag), and they were followed by bunnies, horses, and the latest breedable craze, Meeroos. All these animals are “alive”…they must be cared for or they languish and die. If properly cared for, they can breed and create more animals, and there is “genetic variation” in the offspring. This leads to “rare” animals being traded or re-sold in an active secondary market. The Meeroos are popular because not only are they breedable, and terminally cute, they have “personalities” and they react to people in different ways…bold or shy, loving or aloof.

All of these animals have a more or less artificial feel to them, but the most cleverly designed ones do provide a measure of that sense of an independent living creature that makes Real Life animals so fascinating to us. Those of us who love animals don’t have to leave our friends behind when we enter the virtual world.

Splash Aquatics (Bruce and his relations)
Ee Oh's Palms and Fish (Home of the Killer Coconut Palm!)
Flippers 'N Stuff (baby seals and other fun things)
Zooby's
Virtual Kennel Club

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