Thursday, June 30, 2011

Life wasn't sufficiently complex.... I got involved with owning and running a sim.

A portrait entitled "Idiot with Sunset"

Once again, it's been a while since I've talked to y'all. This time there is a good reason (in addition to the usual reason why I haven't been writing for a spell: i.e., my congenital fecklessness).

A little while back we had an announcement from CapabilityTodd Elswitt, builder and co-owner of the Melioria sim, that he and his partner, Blue Revolution, would be closing the sim down due to rl demands on their time and resources imposed by them buying a house.

Being the eternal goddamn cheerful optimist that I am, I asked Cap and Blue if they would be willing to sell the sim to someone who would do their best to keep it going. To my surprise they said "yes," and I then rounded up some other folks to put together the means to take it over and run it.

For those of you who haven't been there (or missed my previous post about it) Il Principato di Melioria is a spectacularly lovely build that represents a fictional (but more or less historically plausible) island principality off the southwest coast of Italy, set in the year 1780.

The charming jumble that is the village by the harbor on Melioria

The sim is open for roleplay, but also for general visitors and educational activities. For example, there are already lessons in ancient Greek and Latin being conducted in the Villa on Sunday afternoons. The build itself is a lesson in art and architectural history: the villa for example, was described by Cap as "a virtual interpretation of a World Heritage site in Vicenza, Italy. Built in 1565, this elegant country house was inspired by the Pantheon in Rome and has since influenced the design of thousands of subsequent structures."

Eventually, we will be working on ways to convey that kind of didactic information through handouts and some form of architectural "treasure hunt" game. Melioria isn't just something that's pretty to look at or fun to play in (though it is both of those things). There also is substantial potential for this build to serve as an site for various experiments in virtual learning, and to function as a venue for diverse educational meetings and classes.

With those considerations in mind, a couple other folks came forward to help save the sim, do some reorganizing, and then run it. Besides me, the new owners include Sere Timeless (who some of you may know from her involvement with Renaissance Island), and Aldo Stern (former proprietor of the Falling Anvil Pub in Tamrannoch, Caledon0. Our sim manager is Aria Vyper, who, as La Donna Ariella, has been a long-time resident and administrator of Melioria. We all have been working very hard (along with Cap and Blue, who have been happily and doggedly assisting) addressing the many details of the transition and the reorganization. But in many ways, the key person in this process has been Aldo--without him, saving the sim simply would not have been possible. And he has thrown himself into this job wholeheartedly, even facing the utterly discouraging task of finding appropriate 18th century mens' clothing, and giving up his avatar's Maori-style face tattoos (which he has had since 2005), in order to fit the theme of the island.

Aldo Stern 2.0

So, you may ask, what's involved in reorganizing a sim like this?

Well kids, more than you would think. First of all, we had to try to think about how to make the sim work financially with expanded income sources. This meant building a sky platform for an entry area with additional retail spaces, as well as an rp info area and rental office. Aldo created the initial version of the platform, and Sere is even as we speak applying her creative talents in improving the look and functionality of the landing point and adjoining market space. Other new residential rental spaces were added in to the build itself. Then we had to reduce prim usage, in order to accommodate the potential new renters and vendors.

Furthermore, we wanted to create new elements that would facilitate and enhance roleplay. This has involved the placement of "archeological" relics in various places (including an "excavation" on the less built-up side of the island), and the introduction of new businesses in village such as a metal-smith's shop and an 18th century coffee house.

Aldo in the coffee house. The coffee booth is based on 18th century London-style coffee house furnishings, but the rest of it is very Italian, including the fact that respectable women are allowed in.

This coffee house will be of particular importance as a venue where people can gather and talk and interact, similar to the "Keller" in 1920s Berlin. In a successful rp environment, it helps to have a "common space" where the players can count on going to encounter each other and have some plausible reason to interact. RP, after all, is a social activity. And yes, before anyone whines about it, we know coffee houses in 18th century London and Paris did not allow women to enter. In Italy, however, many did, so that is the model our Melioria Coffee house is based on. Everyone--including respectable, intellectually-inclined ladies--are welcome to socialize and join the discussions.

The trick in all this reorganization effort was to accomplish our collective goals without doing massive violence to Cap's build. Yes, we had to cut the number of prims being used and create new income-generating and rp-related spaces, but we tried very hard to do so without destroying the overall look and feel of the sim.

With Cap's ongoing help, I think we've managed to do that.

So I hope you'll come and visit, maybe even think about renting a space or holding an educational event or meeting here. Or if you're a vendor, hey, let's talk.

Next time, I'll fill you in on the rp storylines that seem to be developing.


  1. Good luck with the sim - juggling all those moving parts (to completely screw up a metaphor) can't be easy.

    Complaining about the lack of historical accuracy in, say, having women in coffee shops, always strikes me as being a little obsessive about accuracy. It's tough enough to get people together for RP; having to go through other hoops to create interaction between the players, merely for the sake of accuracy, seems foolish.

  2. Hey Rhia,

    Oh I think accuracy is a good goal, just as long as you accept that what we are doing is based on what can be considered to be more or less historically plausible, rather than always shooting for what would have been historically typical (though a bit of the typical is fun as well).

    And after all, it is about fun and learning, so a big part of what makes this cool is to go beyond level of the standard wikipedia piece and look for information that facilitates and supports interesting situations and scenarios and character development. And sometimes, it involves simply making up a really good story to explain something.

    In fact, I think this sort of situation can actually facilitate rp interaction: you might have a scenario in which some english guy comes into the coffee house, sees some broads in there, gets all surprised as "we don't allow ladies in London coffee houses, blahblahblah" and then a big discussion with much Italian-style gesticulating ensues.

    I think the infusion of accuracy and as much historical reality as possible adds new options--one of the ironies of a place like the original Alsium was that many of the folks going to play there were refugees from Gorean sims, who found the lockstep adherence to a fictional canon in those places much more restrictive than our efforts to base rp scenarios on actual ancient Roman history.

    And as I said, in the case of the coffee houses, with a bit of research we found that there were plenty of examples of Italian coffee houses admitting women in the 18th century (I even put a picture on the wall that is a copy of an original 18th century painting of of a Venetian coffee house packed full o' dames). And in fact, it is turning out that 18th century Italy was a remarkable place in terms of women actively participating in academia, governance, literature and so on...

    I usually find when someone says, "well, they never would have done this that or blahblahblah," it's usually because they have their own agenda that they want to support, based on their own need to control things or to reinforce their own personal prejudices (see "Gor" for examples).

  3. I spent a couple of my formative years next door to a well-known attempt to reconstruct 18th Century Virginia. Of course, there is a huge difference between authentic role-play and running an attraction for tourists, but it gave me a taste for that historical period. I am sorely tempted to seek out appropriate costume, and then visit Melioria.

  4. Hey Lalo,

    The thing is, even when playing to the tourons, you can mix a bit of real history in with the entertainment, and when it works everybody learns something and has some fun. I've done a fair bit of "living history" and even in the most authentic of places and situations, there are always limits to what you can achieve authenticity-wise. (none of us at the 19th century site I worked at for a while actually died in childbirth or contracted cholera, for example).

    But I think Aldo is right--it's not about making product, it's about fostering a process. And every now and then, you have these shining, epiphinal moments. But they usually come when you least expect it.

    Yes, I hope you'll stop by. I heartily recommend a visit to Arundel Designs, Arundelain Dumart's quirky little store with its collection of bargain priced outfits. You can get a very courtly looking outfit (under names such as "Richard" or "Laclos") for 50 lindens, and it includes hat, hair, shoes and everything else you need or one of her sea captain outfits (not as utterly complete but still almost all there, I think) for only 50L.