Second Life is the closest anyone has ever come to building the virtual world described in Neuromancer, Snowcrash, and Ghost in the Shell. Other virtual worlds have come and gone, but Second Life is still the only platform synonymous with "the metaverse." It's a magical place.
But it won't feel quite so magical if you're understandably lost in the Viewer's UI and feeling frustrated as a result!
Second Life has a number of quirks that tend to be extremely confusing to newcomers. Many of these "quirks" are legacy options that have never been—and perhaps shouldn't be—removed from the interface.
This beginners' guide intends to demystify Second Life's interface and its quirks so that new users can skip the headache and dive right into exploring and socializing.
WELCOME TO THE METAVERSE
I always find it very helpful to think of the metaverse as "the Internet, but in 3D." Our island (or "sim") is like a website that is hosted on its own server. It's a 3D space used to inform, entertain, and facilitate social interactions, just like any destination on the Internet.
Bookmarks are called "landmarks" here—just hit the star in your SLurl bar to "favorite" a location and create a landmark! And "teleporting" is just like clicking on a hyperlink to go wherever you want to go. Here at IndieCade Oasis, you can teleport around the island using the posted arrow signs.
Just as there are many different Browsers you can use to explore the Internet, there are actually several Second Life Viewers. Linden Lab, the creators of Second Life, have worked very hard over the years to streamline their own Viewer to make it just as easy to get started as possible.
However, I tend to recommend a different Viewer, called Firestorm—even to people who are brand new to Second Life! Some would say this is a counterintuitive suggestion, since the Firestorm Viewer can be overwhelming with its many menus and options. But Firestorm has customizable toolbars, and it's very easy to search its menus—if you know what you're looking for, that is—which I personally feel is far preferable to burying menu options where newcomers can't find them. It's simply a difference in philosophy.
There are other Viewers as well. Some might be better for older computers; some might be more accessible in general. Whatever Viewer you do end up choosing, this guide will still apply.
Once you have a Viewer installed and set as your computer's default, you can open a web browser, enter any SLurl in its url bar, and be taken to an overhead view of a map. This is the metaverse in 2D!
In Second Life, you can interact with many objects by "sitting" on them. This is a stand-by from the olden days, when sitting on a chair would load an animation inside the chair, and your avatar would suddenly be seated much more comfortably. Pretty soon, other items—like airplanes, barbecue grills, and musical instruments—could also be "sat" on and used.
Other, usually newer, interactive objects will turn your cursor into a pointer finger, which is the universal icon for "yes, this can be clicked on!"
Once you're sitting on, or otherwise interacting with, something, clicking on it a second time will often open a menu with alternative animations to try. To make any pop-up menu disappear again, just click "ignore" to close it. You can make the menu come back again anytime, just by clicking on the object again. Try it out!
To stop using something, just "stand" up from it. Standing will immediately end the animation loop, and you'll be free to move again.
Sometimes you are pretty sure something can be interacted with, but clicking on it won't do anything. Other times, objects can do *multiple* things, depending on *where* you click.
In rare, confusing-UI moments like these, you might want to try right-clicking on the object instead. The default action is "Sit Here" (and you can "force-sit" on some very strange things), but sometimes the context menu will suggest a very different action in its place, such as "Drive!", "Grill!", or "Play the violin."
Choosing that action from the context menu will usually let you do what you wanted to do—although sometimes you'll discover that an item lets you do very surprising things you didn't expect! (Many old-school Second Life users still right-click on *everything* to interact with the virtual world!)
Don't worry—you'll get the hang of this fast, I promise.
GETTING COMFORTABLE IN YOUR SEAT
A lot of objects in Second Life are intended for very tall avatars. If you take a seat and find that you are hovering a meter above it, try clicking on your seat a second time. Most of the time there will be a pop-up menu that includes an option called "ADJUST." Clicking this button will allow you to adjust your avatar along its X, Y, and Z axes, until your bottom is perfectly placed in the seat. Now you're lookin' like an old pro! (Click "Save" or "Save All" to make sure the chair—or whatever—remembers your settings for next time.)
When two or more people can sit on something and be posed or animated by it, there will often be an additional menu option called "SWAP." This allows you to change places and poses with the other person, or people, sitting on the object with you. It will also allow you to change who "leads" and who "follows," who's driving and who's a passenger, et cetera.
COUPLES, GROUP ANIMATIONS, POSEBALLS, and GENDER
Although this is changing, a lot of the user-made couches, chairs, and other interactive objects in Second Life do still reflect certain outdated attitudes, as well as a bias toward heteronormativity that may be uncomfortable for our diverse community.
In many cases, "male sit" animations/poses just mean they're intended for larger avatars than "female sit" animations/poses are. In other cases, "male" may suggest that one avatar is the "big spoon" and the other is the "little spoon." And, oftentimes, "male" animations simply indicate that something is gender-neutral. It is the nature of the language that creators have historically elected to use when scripting and animating.
Many seating options have two-person "cuddle" animations included; we've tried to get rid of these where we could but, in most cases, we could not edit objects' menus or rename the animations contained therein. If you do decide to use a cuddle or hug animation with a second person, please make sure you have their explicit permission first.
A lot of older objects use something called "poseballs." For a long time, instead of sitting/clicking on something directly, you had to sit on the hovering sphere next to it instead!
Dance balls—a type of object that takes over your avatar's animation—do still use poseballs, at least for "couples" dances. One ball will be blue and the other will be pink, indicating who will lead and who will follow. We're aware that this is potentially problematic.
To use couples poseballs, "sit" on whichever color-coded sphere you want to use. To stop using them, "stand" again.
ACQUIRING STUFF AND USING IT
One of the first things you'll want to learn to do is acquire items, unpack ("unbox") them, and add them to your Inventory. The Flash Jam vending machine, for example, is filled with simple, free supplies—but a lot of these items are "boxed" (zipped), and you'll have to unzip them.
Begin by relocating to a sandbox area (such as the IndieCade Oasis's own sandbox!) or any other place you happen to have object-entry permissions. Boxed items that you have recently received will most likely be listed at the top of the "Objects" folder in your Inventory window.
Drag the boxed item directly out of Inventory and onto the ground in front of your avatar. Right-click on the box (or bag, cube, or flat thingie), select "Open" from the context menu to unpack the contents of the "box," and then choose to "Copy to Inventory." A folder full of your new stuff will now be accessible in your Inventory window.
Hey! Don't forget to clean up after yourself! To pick up any object off the ground that is yours, right-click on it and choose "Take." You're free to delete the box now, if you so choose.
If you happen to see someone else's garbage on the ground unattended, you can right-click on it and look through the context menus for an action called "Return." This automagically returns the item to its rightful owner. (In sandbox areas, objects are eventually auto-returned. These objects will appear, in time, in an Inventory folder called "Lost and Found.")
Sometimes you will drag an item out of Inventory, only to discover that it wasn't a zipped file after all. Just pick it up again—right-click and "Take."
To pull an unzipped object out of Inventory, just drag-and-drop from the Inventory onto the terrain in front of your avatar. You can now begin to adjust its placement.
EDITING (THE PLACEMENT OF) OBJECTS
Right-click the item and choose "Edit." In the main Edit window, you'll see options to move the item along its x, y, and z axes. Next, you can rotate objects by ticking the radio button for "Rotate." Some items can even be stretched to larger dimensions, or shrunk to smaller ones. (Tip: Leave "Stretch Textures" checked! When stretching items out, pulling on the red, blue, and green dots may distort the object. Pull on the plain white dots, instead, if you want the object to maintain its original proportions.)
When items like clothes and jewelry don't fit correctly, they can sometimes be adjusted using these same tips. But before you edit an item, try to make a copy of it first, and check to see if it doesn't already have a "resizer script." (Many items can be resized through a menu, and you can often find this menu by clicking on the item itself. It's a much safer way to resize and edit your belongings!)
Note: Editing clothes, hair (wigs), and jewelry can be very tedious. And it's even more frustrating if your avatar keeps weaving around due to an idle animation! That's why most people stand in a T-pose to do this kind of self-surgery. Firestorm has a T-pose built into its interface, but if you can't find the T-pose in your Viewer (or don't have one!), just install this handy HUD. It'll add an extra button to your screen, and you can use it anywhere, even on land without object-entry permissions: https://marketplace.secondlife.com/p/Sweets-Free-Pose-Stand-HUD/16801111
ABOUT CLOTHING, HANDHELD PROPS, AND HAIR
To wield anything, or to attach something to your body, right-click on it in the Inventory window and choose "Add." Anything attached to your body will now be in Boldface lettering in your Inventory. (You can also see everything currently attached to your avatar under a tab in the Inventory window called "Worn.")
You can also attach HUDs—additional, custom interface buttons—to your screen in this way. Just find the HUD in your inventory and choose "add."
To remove the item from your body, right-click on it *in Inventory* (or from under the "Worn" tab), and choose "Detach." (Detaching items directly from your avatar is *possible*, but perilous! Trust me on this.)
Again: Any time you want to put on, or hold, something new—be it a new wig, a pair of eyeglasses, your IndieCade swag T-shirt, a cup of coffee, or a snowball launcher—you will want to find the item in your Inventory window, right-click on it, and select "Add."
I repeat, choose ADD. (Do NOT choose "Wear"! Never do it! Always "add" the item to your body instead!!)
Even though, in this modern technological era, you can now wear multiple items in the same spot on your body at once—you can hold two things in the same hand, you can wear two hats simultaneously—choosing "Wear" will *replace* one item with another. Many newcomers have been mortified to lose their shirts and trunks this way. (Wearing "Alpha" layers, such as the ones that came with your free IndieCade T-shirts, will prevent others from seeing any skin, in the likely event of a wardrobe malfunction.)
Click "Add" not only to hold props and "throwers," but to wear anything from wigs to eyeballs, hats to shoes.
FROM WIGS TO EYEBALLS, HATS TO SHOES
So! A lot of people want to start customizing their avatars to look like themselves right away—understandably! Although Linden has definitely improved its default avatar offerings in recent years, newcomers are still often frustrated to discover that changing their appearance isn't as simple as going into the old-school Appearance Editor.
You *can* cobble together something interesting made from multiple default avatars' components, but you may wish you had a larger selection. To truly customize your avatar, you will need to start acquiring user-made items. A lot of these items—although not all!—will cost a little bit of money. To buy things, you will convert money from your homeland's monetary denomination into "Lindens" (L$).
You can buy anything from wigs to entirely new body parts. (For example, my default, "classic" avatar is secretly hidden underneath the body that other users see. I am wearing a user-made mesh head, mesh body, and bento hands and feet, on top of my "real" avatar. We aren't going to talk about how to do that in this document, but it definitely can be done.)
Even if you're wearing a Classic/Legacy avatar, you can still find recently-made, good-looking skins. You can also find free "shapes," and wearing a shape by a pro is much easier than manually editing your own shape (which can be done by fiddling with the Appearance Editor sliders).
One creator, Sweet Lynwood, gives away a few very nice, very *free* male and female skins for classic avatars, as well as free shapes to go with them. She even offers "complete avatar packs," as well as bento mesh heads and bodies that function as a total avatar replacement. It's all free or almost-free (L$1 is just a fraction of a penny). Sweet's Marketplace store is here: https://marketplace.secondlife.com/stores/213446
(Remember: Anything you buy in your external web browser (through Second Life Marketplace) will go into a mailbox called "Received Items," and will need to be unpacked and/or dragged-and-dropped into your Inventory. Items you buy, or otherwise receive, in-world, will end up in your Objects folder instead.)
PLAYING GAMES AND RIDING RIDES
Sometimes, especially if you're already wearing a fancy "animation override" (or AO), it's hard to stop weaving from side to side long enough to pitch a ball or throw a dart. In moments like these, make sure your AO is turned off. (In Firestorm, you can add "AO" to your toolbar and check it and uncheck it on the fly.)
It can be pretty silly to watch yourself ride an amusement-park ride in the third person—and it's next to impossible to throw a basketball! That's why it's so important to learn how to rapid-switch between third-person and first-person mode, which, in Second Life, is called "Mouselook view." It makes games more fun to play and rides more fun to ride.
"Mouselook sets the camera to a first-person perspective, allowing you to view the world through your avatar's eyes. You can enter mouselook by pressing the M key or by using your mouse's scroll wheel to zoom all the way in on your avatar.
"When in mouselook, your avatar turns to face the direction in which you are looking, which allows you to steer with your mouse while you walk or fly. Mouselook is also often used in order to aim or activate scripted objects.
"Tip: Should you ever find yourself navigating a tight space, entering mouselook can help you get your bearings."
Alternatively, here are the Mouselook instructions for Firestorm Viewer:
First, check to be sure that mouselook functionality is enabled in Preferences > Move & View > Mouselook > Enable Mouselook functionality.
Now, mouselook may be activated in a few ways:
- Use your mouse wheel to scroll forward, until mouselook kicks in. (You can exit mouselook the same way, by scrolling backward with your mousewheel. This method works only if it hasn't already been disabled under Preferences -> Move & View.) - By using the 'm' key on your keyboard. (However, this requires that WASD movement be enabled, which is done in Preferences > Move & View > Movement > Pressing letter keys affects Movement.) - Open the camera controls, which is a pop-out directional pad. In the pad's top menubar, the top right icon is "mouselook mode."
And that's it! Once you've found the best and most comfortable way to switch into Mouselook mode, you'll be switching back and forth between first- and third-person view with hardly a second thought.
OTHER PREFERENCES SETTINGS
One of the most valuable tips I can suggest is adjusting your camera controls until they work well for you. One of the first things I always suggest doing is going to Preferences > Move & View > View, and disabling camera constraints. This lets me zoom around looking at things freely without moving my body (just like in Gabriel Knight 3, whose UI was ahead of its time). It's especially important for zooming in close on board games and looking around corners in the Escape Room. I also personally set the camera to reset itself when I move, but I also use "clicking your avatar keeps camera position," which is really useful for if I want to stay zoomed in or zoomed out when moving through very tight or very large open spaces.
Under Preferences > Move & View > Movement, I like to turn on WASD movement—like a True Gamer—plus "tap-tap-hold to run" and "enable crouch toggle." This is the vocabulary of gameplay that I think most IndieCade Attendees will be familiar with, so I recommend adjusting your settings this way for your comfort.
If Second Life is running poorly on your computer, try visiting Preferences > Graphics > General and turning everything down a notch. "Maximum complexity" pertains to other avatars in your area; if you sense that their fancy-pants clothes and hair are slowing you down, just turn down the Maximum Complexity and the number of non-impostor avatars. Try creating different graphics presets for different environments and social settings!
If it seems like objects in the distance aren't rendering like you'd expect—and if your computer can handle it—try going to Preferences > Graphics > General and increasing the Objects & Sculpts LOD.
If it seems like everyone else can hear something you can't, go to Preferences > Sound & Media, and check out the Media tab first. Not everyone wants media to auto-play, but if you don't have it enabled, you'll have to click on every video you want to watch. (Here at IndieCade Oasis, you'll have to click on the video screens to start streaming media anyway, regardless of your settings—these are unique circumstances.)
It's generally safe to allow in-world scripts to play media, but enabling the media filter allows you to vet and approve every media source individually. The UI will ask you every time if you want to whitelist a new media source.
If you are having to get waaaaay too close to a screen to hear the audio from a video stream, you'll want to adjust your "media source volume rolloff distance." If it's set to too short of a distance, you might not be able to hear everything you want to. (Conversely, if it's set to too long a distance, you might be hearing a lot more than you want to.)
Under Preferences > Sound & Media > Music, you might also want to tick the box allowing audio streams to auto-play. Otherwise, you will have to manually turn on the music every time you cross an invisible boundary into a new parcel of land. (If you have your media filter enabled, the interface will still check in with you the first time you're listening to a new streaming source.)
Music is very important in Second Life. Most regions in Second Life play streaming radio stations 24/7, and DJs throughout Second Life are streaming live sets every hour of the day, too!
We hope you have a wonderful experience at IndieCade Oasis! We know it's a little bit different this year, but we're so grateful for this opportunity to connect and play together in new ways.
If you're an IndieCade attendee with any further questions about Second Life, please feel free to reach out to me, Nova Conundrum, and I will do my best to help.