Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The Pokemon Sim of Ravenlock

By Bixyl Shuftan

With the smash hit "Pokemon GO" game making news, it's attracted the attention of many. This includes Second Life users, some whom have been playing the game. But for some residents, playing Pokemon is nothing new. They've been doing it here in Second Life at a sim called Ravenlock. With the game in real life news so much, I decided to take a look at the place, and the people who run and play there.

The sim is owned by Mindy Runo, a six-tailed foxgirl. She has the help of two friends, Ivy Kirax (Ivy Steampunk) and Casio (Casio2000) with running the place. I ended up meeting with both Mindy and Ivy on two different occasions. "I love both Ivy and Casio," Mindy told me, "This sim wouldn't be here without either one of them."

Asking her how the place got started, she told me the original idea wasn't about Pokemon, "The idea was originally going to be a carnival game. I was making small toys, and was going to make one of those duck shoot games where the creatures would move, you shoot it and get a prize. Well, during the creation of it, a friend passed me a squirtle.The initial squirtle was not animated, but it did move about. We were laughing and playing with it, till several others said it would be nice to have the others as well. So I worked on the bulbasaur, squirtle, and charizard lines, and eventually got to creating several things Pokemon.

"I started on the homestead Joep, and at the time once we got houses and such made, we had a total of four areas you could visit. Not very many pets though, but it was already starting to get popular. When they were 'Waving the Setup fee' for new sims eight years ago, we decided to go ahead an get a full sim. At the time we had just over 30 catchable pets. The sim has been rebuilt, and redesigned at least seven times now. And we're working on the eighth, and now harboring at least 800-plus unique catchables. We have Pokemon, Minecraft, Mario, My Little Pony, and several other game and user created creatures. We find though Pokemon is fun, people do like being able to catch there favorite game or movie character as well."

As time went on, they improved the pokeball thrower, added a money system, and multiple levels, "Use to (be) we had roughly five levels that would take up all our prim count. Now we have over 15 levels, and room to spare. The next rebuild, I plan on over forty different areas, though smaller. I hope to prove that it will keep people happy being able to literally be in a game."

When I met with Ivy earlier, she had told me the "thrower points" box people to keep track of their score was just a few Lindens. Captured pets were tradeable between players, "In 2012 we started making holiday events for Halloween, Christmas and Easter where people can collect holiday rares as well. As for a battle system it is still in the works however, and many activities are tried and tested with the visitors to make more stable and workable activities.

"Our one and only scriptor Casio2000 has been very busy this year though to make the battle system active, new activities using the sim's roleplay currency for Halloween, and improve the safety system against griefers and harassers. Mindy and myself are also in the process of revamping the sim from a 'Japanese pokemon' theme back to the old firered/leafgreen style. Now that the sim uses the new experience key program, we're able to make a more authentic game experience with many effects for players. There's many ideas left to implement and probably many more to come."

Of the in-game currency, Ivy stated, "the roleplay money hud and the currency was implemented in recent years. Players can collect various currency that spawn along with the pets and be able to buy things from the shops around the main town should people wish to sell things using the roleplay currency. Mindy's shop, 'Nook-Fu,' is a dedicated shop for the pokedollars. The item system there is set up to be like Nook's store from 'Animal Crossing,' so it will cycle it's content every in game day (4 Ravenlock days in 1 real-life day). Other renters have taken a liking to the gatcha system where customers can use Pokedollars on them instead of Lindens. The money system can only be used in Ravenlock or any potential sister sims of course, and is all free and found while wandering the sim. The hud will also be expanded to have things like inventory, map, your Pokemon team when we implement the battle system, game clock, and the battle system itself. So it's very much still a work in progress."

So what were some of the challenges? Mindy told me, "The biggest challenge was getting the proper scripts to make everything work. The thrower system alone has came a LONG way. Used to be, to throw a ball, you would attach a thrower, throw at a pet, then whether you caught it or not, to throw another ball you had to detach the thrower, and attach a new one. Thanks to Cassio we now have a completely automated thrower that can be refilled by anyone." One other problem, which they've been working on recently, allowing the gamers to have their Pokemon fight each other in matches, "we are STILL working on a battle system, the test which is this 'rock paper scissors' game here." She pointed to a box next to the statue near the main entry area, "The thrower actually happened on the third rebuild when I went and found Casio at a script library when I was going there to try and learn how to do better pet scripts, since the ones I had would only let you do legs a certain way. we had some derpy pokemon back then."

Asking if there was any roleplaying, Mindy answered, "Yes but not nearly as much as I would like, I do want to get an actual RP system in place, which with the new rebuild, I plan to head this section myself. In the past I relied on others who said they wanted to create the groups and such, but it never got further than that." With Renemon and other avatars resembling Pokemon, I asked if any residents were roleplaying the parts of Pokemon themselves. Mindy answered, "I have actually seen several doing such. I have seen Trainers and Pokemon RPing together in mock battles."

Ivy told me a little more about roleplaying here, "we do help supply the RP tools, faction groups and such for people to continue on personal roleplays around the sim. More often than not you're sure to find someone from a faction roaming around in full uniform. There's been a lot of funny roleplay stories that have occurred, and a lot of fan made stories too. Even though we don't have a full scale roleplay going on currently, there is also many secrets around the sim that people can find relating to the factions. While the teams like Rocket, Magma and Aqua have become a household name you can find entrances to their current team bases around the main town. However there is one new shadowy faction said to be run by a band of Yokai Pokemon lurking around, for the curious trainer they may stumble upon an old shrine in a magic infused forest. This shrine is said to be the entrance to the Yokai Pokemon base."

While it was a sure thing that Ravenlock had been getting more traffic since the release of Pokemon GO, she wasn't sure by how much as her real-life job has been keeping her busy lately,"I haven't had much time to spend on here." But the statistic from a few months before she was aware of, "We are at 20K traffic, which is roughly average for this sim. A low point is around 12K, and our highest point hit 43K. To put this in perspective, Help Island Public, the hub for most newbies, is only 8K traffic. So in layman's terms, your place was popular even before Pokemon Go was released."

And other Pokemon sims? Mindy told me Ravenloft "was and is so far, the only sim I know of fully dedicated to Pokemon and has a custom catch system in place. We have had MANY sister sims, which we tried to help others get started, even applying our system AND builds to their sim free of charge. But they just didnt last due to internal disputes between themselves. I still welcome anyone who wishes to start up a sim like what we have, and will still be willing to help them build it."

As Mindy and I talked, there was a crowd gathering around. Some had their own things to say about the place, all positive, "I'm a newbie to the sim and Second Life in general and this has been fantastic so far." "I'm a regular here. I love coming to this place." One had just discovered the place, "I actually only found out about this sim just a few minutes ago." A couple had a pet by their side as they went about.

Besides her six tails, Mindy's foxgirl avatar has a few other distinguishing features. One is the badge worn around her neck. Mindy explained, "The badge is something we use to do, and which I do want to bring back in a new design in the rebuild, if you click it you can get a clearer view above me." And it did, the badge listing her Pokemon as a "Vulpix," with her ability as "Flaming Ban Hammer." Mindy added, "It was a fun thing I did that let people make there own custom badges. It was just something fun to do. In the new build, I wish to bring it back, with badges for Trainers, Pokemon, and Observers." There was also a pirate ship and shark on her tails, "The ship, is the Thousand Sunny from 'One Piece.' I do love the anime and watch it regularly. The shark, I just got that recently."

Eventually, one of her tails lit up, making a musical note. She explained, "I like music, as people find out when they click my tails." And the others around began doing so more, making a few melodies causing Mindy to giggle a bit, "I think everyone who often plays here plays with my tails."

As Mindy and I were talking, one player, Asuka, came over asking where the ponies were. Mindy offered to take her to the "Neighasaki" level, "We have noticed all the names in the MLP universe are a spinoff of horse acronyms." The three of us went up there, and in no time at all, ponies started appearing around us. The area itself was bright and cartoony, Mindy telling me, "As you can see, we do design the levels to represent there respective designs, so people may RP as they wish here as well. ... You have to thank Ivy for that, she is the lead texture artist and designer. She's the one who designed most of the current levels."

Besides the ponies, I also saw a coin on the ground, "As you can see, Pets, the ponies, as well as pokedollars, the coin over there, spawn around the players. We used to use floating spawners, which would roam an area and spawn them constantly. This would actually cause lag, as well as use a lot more prims. Now we have it so that the actual people are the rezzers, threw the experience system, and will only spawn creatures out around them."

Mindy told me once they have their battle system in it's second stage, catching Pokemon won't be a sure thing, "I DO hope to have wild pets battle people trying to catch them, much like the game. The normal pokemon will have there respective moves, but for the user created creatures, we do plan to have some fun with them." Seeing a pinkish pony, she commented, "Since were in the pony level, Take Pinkey Pie for instance. A few attacks she may have would be Duplication, Suger Rush, Fourth Wall Breaking and such stuff." Asking her what the "Fourth Wall Breaking" would entail, Mindy answered, "Hopefully we'll emplement the script to beable to detect what a user has caught, has in their inventory, where they been, and even a general knowledge database about the users, allowing such fourth wall breakings to occur.Such as, we have a sim website where people add there usernames AND real-life names, we can link the database up so that the pony would actually call the user by there real-life name (we will have an opt in and opt out option)."

Asuka was happy to have found the pony area, "It's relaxing to me." Then she noticed a certain purplish pony, "TWILIGHT!" She then tossed pokeballs at it until the game announced *Twilight Sparkle is captured by aliciasilverfang* "My favorite pony!" she beamed. She would capture a few more, then "Eep! I need to get pokeballs." So the three of us headed back to the town square.

Asking Mindy what advice she'd give beginners, her answer was, "Have fun, and aim at the feet. For actual Pokemon games, put Abra to sleep before trying to catch the little squirt. (I) spent well over half my collected money trying to catch him, and he just kept teleporting away. As for the aim at the feet one, Secondlife's Hitbox for physical builds seems to be near the feet." She explained with the charlizard for instance, people would be trying to hit it's wings when only a hit at the feet would succeed. She rezzed one Pokeman as an example, a rectangle beneath it visible. She called that a "'ground box' ... used to keep them standing up right. It's actually the biggest part of the build, and has to be physical to keep pets from falling threw the floors."

I then asked about special events, such as holidays. Mindy then offered a sneak peek at the upcoming Halloween area. We teleported there, and I saw a dimply-lit fairground, "this is the event area for the Halloween event we are planning. Things are still being worked on at the time, carnival, fun house, and several other things. The stalls will be for renters to set up selling stalls. We headed to the largest building, where the first floor had a number of unfinished stations, "The second floor of the building has past events we had, past builds, events, and others we have pictures of." We headed up the stairs, and the walls had a few dozen pictures all around, "we do have a picture of the very first build this sim seen, not the one on the homested mind you." She pointed that one out.

Taking a look all around, this gallery helped remind me this wasn't just simply a place that was recently set up, but one that had been around for years, with many different players, some whom had spent a lot of time here making their own adventures and stories.

Most of the rules in the sim are common sense ones, no griefing, no cheating, no sex and nudity. Profanity is not allowed, nor are vehicles not approved by the sim administrators. Drama is to  be kept to a minimum and heavily scripted items "that can push, throw, trap, spam etc. in any part of this sim" are prohibited.

"This sim was created in the hopes that it would make people smile, the prices I have set allows even those with no Lindens at all to come and enjoy themselves, the rent here also is meant so that those who love the sim, no matter the income, can come and live here and be around the area they like ... It always is still a surprise to me (smile) being the place origionally started out with the plan that me an a few friends could have fun with. I honestly didn't think the sim would end up this popular."

More on the sim can be read on their forum at . Their town square is located at Ravenlock (128, 127, 144).

Bixyl Shuftan

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