September 27, 2006

Bathroom Doors

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We quietly opened the aloft sim the other day and have been getting some nice feedback. We've also gotten some great comments taking a critical eye at the build and design, and we welcome both. Feel free to post your thoughts as comments on this blog as well!

One question we heard a few times was why there wasn't a door in the bathroom. There will be a sliding door in the real hotel but we actually forgot to put it into the virtual version because, well, avatars do not spend much time in bathrooms in Second Life. We did not capture every detail of the hotel interior but instead tried to focus on the essentials. However, we think you are right -- that door is an essential and we are going to update that wall separator and add the door. We see this build as a work in progress. Keep those thoughts coming!

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August 31, 2006

The "Virtual" Impacting The "Real" - A Discussion with Brian McGuinness for TV Tokyo

Last week, TV Tokyo filmed a segment on the aloft project and they took some footage of Brian McGuinness, Vice President of aloft hotels, and I discussing the status of the project. Brian and I decided to use the time productively, tuned out the cameras, and flew around the island looking at everything and discussing possible changes and updates.

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The following numbers track to the image above:

4. (while editing this post, I decided to start with the last location we visited, because it is was a really interesting moment from my perspective) We are starting to see the virtual design influence the real-world design even before opening the hotel up for consumer feedback. Our designers Cory and Makaio placed a floorplan of the hotel lobby on the floor of our virtual lobby to use as a reference (just like we scatter reference photos around where we work), and it seems that the aloft team took quite a liking to that concept. While I am sure, should they implement it, that it will be much more subtle and beautiful than our white blueprint slapped on the floor, they are seriously thinking about bringing the floorplan into the flooring somehow at the entrance. A small thing, but really neat to see the virtual impacting the real already.

1. One concern was the amount of stone in the back area where the pool was going. We did not want that area to be too “heavy” on the eye. We discussed whether it made sense to bring the sunflower theme into the stonework to bring some color, or whether all the items for the swimming pool like deckchairs, tents, and plantings would solve it. For right now, we are trying to the latter approach and seeing if that will do enough.

2. In the interior of the aloft hotel, Brian mentioned that there would now be a gas fireplace in the lounge in place of the candles. We also discussed whether it made sense to have a decorative, non-functional pool table in the Second Life build. The pool table would be true to the Starwood design, and their ideas around games in the lobby, but if it wasn’t actually playable should we keep it? We decided to preserve it because an important part of the mission here is to show the design of what will exist in 2008 as currently planned.

3. similar to our discussion, Brian wanted us to soften up some of the stone in the quay up at the front. As you can see in the picture, we are trying some different techniques such as bringing in more grass elements, and we may add more trees/vegetation. We also discussed adding some vines to the walls, and for that we’re just going to have to try a few things to see what works. Vines are done with textures (pictures) within Second Life – you would not want to create a 3D model of every branch and leaf – but the danger is that they can look flat and unrealistic if you’re not careful.

Giff Constable aka “Forseti Svarog”

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August 14, 2006

Face-to-Face

aloha!

On August 3rd, myself and Giff Constable (SL name: Forseti Svarog) made the trip to White Plains to meet up with our counterparts on the Electric Artists and Starwood Hotel teams. Marc Schiller from EA along with Jessica and Tracy from Starwood met us at a warehouse space where the Starwood design team is busily working through the design and layout concepts for the real aloft hotels.

First off, I have to mention that working and collaborating in virtual space is great, but there's nothing like in-person meetings when it comes to information transfer. A platform like Second Life allows for a much greater sense of real-time involvement with others on a project when you're working remotely than a conference call or email. We've pulled off entire projects where we never once had a chance to visit what we're recreating onsite, or to shake the hand of our clients in person. So while it can be done, and done well, there's really no substitute for both the information gleaned and the rapport established by a face to face meeting, or a real walk through the space you're going to recreate in Second Life. Which is why I came away with a much better idea of how to tackle the aloft interior after Thursday's walkthrough - and, I think, Starwood got a better idea of how ESC is handling their virtual creation.

The visit was the first time I'd ever had a behind-the-scenes glimpse into how a hotel brand like aloft gets its unique personality. A tremendous amount of care is put into every aspect of the design, from placement to fabrics to usability to accenting touches. And, like almost any other type of project, there will always be some aspects that are subject to change up until the very last moment. Some of those aspects for this project are looking to be things like fabric and material choices for the furniture - luckily, this is something that the virtual aloft project can handle much more quickly than a RL furniture manufacturer. I'm hoping that our ability to modify design and color on the fly will be of assistance to aloft's design team as well. (As soon as we got back, I had Makaio start on the furniture design, since the physical aspect of it is a lot less likely to change than the textures - see below.)

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Besides the insight into the layout and textures, we also got a better sense of the overall look and feel of the aloft brand. They really did a wonderful job covering the details in making this a step above and beyond what you'd normally see in a hotel line, and creating a great experience for travelers. I picked up details from the walkthrough - like the use of sunflowers as accent items - that will help us flesh out the surrounding island build to mesh better with the aloft style. This will take some rework on our part, but luckily we now have the information we need to knock it out of the park.

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Our next steps are laying out the virtual interior plan to coincide as closely as possible with the real life layout, and getting started on the construction of the same. I will also be working closely in the next few weeks with aloft's designer in residence, Aliya, to make changes and insure that any design choices we make from this point on are firmly in touch with the aloft look.

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August 3, 2006

"Project Details" - The Bridge

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Second Life has its own scripting language, called LSL, which is based on C++. Scripting an object can really make it a functional tool as opposed to just an inert (although decorative) item. Scripting is also the key to adding interactivity to the things you create. So, hopefully, scripted items will also be a fun part of aloft Island as well.

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Makaio is currently working on the scripting for the bridge, and I asked him to explain a little bit about this project-within-a-project:

"Im making a timed sensor cube that scans the area around the bridge. It detects if boats and/or people are present, then passes that data to the bridge itself. The bridge is going to have a tiered priority system based on its current status and the data, ie: if boats are present and no people are and its closed, it will open. If its already open, it will remain open if boats AND people are present. It will stay open if its already open for the boats, or if its closed, it'll stay closed until the people are gone."

One of the issues he ran into initially was programming the bridge to tell the difference between a regular walking avatar on the bridge, and an avatar in a boat underneath the bridge.

"Well, i didn't take into account that the scanner is going to scan the people driving the boats - so basically, its seeing a person and a boat, and not opening because of that. So what I have to do is make the scanner read agent data, and see if that person it sees is sitting on anything. And if they are, have it (the script) verify what they're sitting on is their boat, and if it is, it nulls them out of its people scan and detects them with the boat instead."

After surpassing that problem, he hit success and the bridge now functions correctly, depending on if you're simply walking over it, or trying to motor under it on your boat.

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