Playing in the Snow: A Second Life Laboratory

David Ethan Kennerly, September 8, 2004

So this is your first day on the construction crew. Do you understand the concept illustration? Good. Get ready. We're going to hoist the structure on this plot. We purchased rights to the land and got permission to build. Be sure to work in pairs and be careful during the final assembly. We start in fifteen minutes, so don't be late. Ready. Set. Fly!

Fly? Welcome to Second Life.

This 3-hour laboratory introduces building using Second Life, for the course Design of Virtual Worlds at San Francisco State University.

Lab Objective

Build a structure in Second Life through class collaboration.

Problem Statement

Lab Setup

Completion Guidelines

This requires class collaboration and prior familiarity with building in Second Life. It is important that a plot of land has already been purchased and prepared. have three screenshots available of this land from unique angles, to give a sense of its three dimensional specifications. See below for screenshot instructions. In addition to these instructions, draw property lines over the screenshot to delineate the building area. Example screenshots are:

Oblique view:

Overhead view:

Side view:


This is a three-hour lab that demonstrates design, modeling, and teamwork. The evaluation includes participation in all phases of the lab, both as an individual designer and as a collaborating team member. This plan serves as a guideline for a contiguous three-hour block of instruction (total class time of 2:45):
Overview0:00 - 0:15
Design discussion0:15 - 0:45
Travel to construction site0:45 - 1:00
Pair construction1:00 - 1:30
Break1:30 - 1:45
Team assembly1:45 - 2:15
Finish2:15 - 2:30
Review2:30 - 2:45
The evaluation includes participation in all phases of the lab, both as an individual designer and as a collaborating team member.


Before beginning the building, we need a design discussion. There is a plot of land. Let's share ideas on what to build on this plot. Some topics to generate ideas are: a theme (e.g., playing in the snow) or a motif (e.g., spheres). As the class generates ideas, the instructor smooths over bumps, and keeps the discussion on course and alive.

Come to a consensus on a concept illustration. The concept must be simple enough to build in thirty-minutes to one hour. In addition, the concept should be easily divisible into pairs. Like much of Second Life building, a theme is a good idea for building. For example, Benham (18,27) is a plot of snow, so some themed ideas for group building may be:

The culmination of this discussion are concept sketches that roughly correspond to the screenshots of the plot of land. This is the first step to team construction. The team has a concept that can be visualized as an illustration. There is only about ten minutes to make this illustration, so it should functional, without rendering. Example concept sketches of "Snowboy throwing a boyball at a snowgirl":

Oblique view:

Overhead view:

Side view:

If a team member has experience with scripting or programming, include a script to the structure, such as mobility. If no team member does, then the library script of rotation can be applied to an object to demonstrate the principle of scripts. Briefly discuss and illustrate the scripted behavior. Ensure that it is simple. It is better to be on the side of caution in order to build confidence through team accomplishment.

The deliverable for the design discussion is three concept illustrations, from the same angles as the screenshots. Three examples are shown above.

Pair Assignment

Which students have built something in Second Life? Students pair together for building the components. Students are free to choose their own pairs, except require any students without building experience to be paired with another student with building experience. If there is an odd number of students, then there is one group of three members.

Each student in the pair should have adjacent computers, so that both may observe the partner's view and activity. This enables the two students to troubleshoot each other's problems and collaborate on their building assignment.

The instructor arbitrates, when needed, distribution of labor of the building to the pairs. If the class is larger than a dozen, group the pairs together for a subassembly of the total building. Each pair should have an equal amount of labor, because each phase requires the full class to finish.

Travel to Construction Site

The instructor provides coordinates of the location. If someone should get stuck, or cannot teleport to the location, have the student manually fly to the location. Access the map, select the target region. This creates a target in view, which the student can follow to the target. For example, if the target is in Benham (25,25). The student can select region name Benham. While flying, ascend to the highest altitude possible and then proceed toward the target heading. Do no descend until reaching the target. Like an airplane, high altitude avoids collision with buildings.

Once there, by flying or teleporting, the student can fly to the exact coordinates. The coordinates map (x,y), with x being the west-to-east ascending scale, and y being the south-to-north ascending scale. Each region is 256x256 units as a square, so (128,128) is the center.

If a student gets stuck or the software becomes unresponsive, attempt to retrace the path. If this fails, wait one minute. The client may be downloading obstacles that are in the way. If no response after one minute, exit the software and then restart the software. If this occurs while teleporting, do not attempt to teleport.

Pair Construction

At the site, each student should set his or her home to this location. Then if a user loses connection, the user will return to this location.

Then the instructor invites each student join to the instructor's group. For example, the group name may be SecondLab, with officer title as "Instructor" and member title as "Student."

If not done already, the instructor enables the land owned by the instructor's account for group building. And the instructor gives build permission, on this land, to this student group.

During building, each builder must set each object to full permission (found in General properties while editing an object), such as "Share with group", and next owner may "Modify" and "Copy". It may also help to "Allow anyone to modify" and "Allow anyone to copy." Otherwise, a partner cannot edit the work!


Students must set their homes to the site before logging out.

Team Assembly

After the pairs have constructed their parts, the class puts these components together. All issues of aligning are delayed until this phase. However, issues of rough scale can and should be resolved during pair construction, because each pair can view other pair's work in progress.

Ensure the textures have been made consistent and that the scales mesh. Ensure the overall design matches. Work through issues and quickly come to a consensus or provide explicit direction to finish on time.

The last issue may be attaching a script. This should be simple, one that has been tested already, such as a rotating appendage.


The team deliverable is the structure. The student deliverable for this phase is one unique screenshot of the structure, each from a different position and angle. Help anyone, who needs it, to take a screenshot and where to find the screenshot file. Using all lower-case letters and numbers (no other characters), rename the file with a consistent naming convention such as:

For example:

To create this screenshot:

  1. Enter Second Life.
  2. Travel to the desired camera location and altitude of the screenshot.
  3. Turn on View | Mouselook (M) mode.
  4. Move the mouse to the desired angle.
  5. Take the screenshot by pressing Ctrl + Shift + S.
  6. Turn off mouselook by pressing Esc.
  7. In the screenshot preview dialog, select Save Snapshot to Disk.
  8. Enter your name as the file name. Remember this file location.
  9. Exit Second Life.
Now that you have a screenshot, convert it into a web-friendly format.
  1. Go to the screenshot file location. Second Life saves the file in bitmap format, which consumes a lot of memory.
  2. Open the file in a paint program, such as Microsoft Paint.
  3. Shrink the image size to be 640x480. For example, if the current image size is 1280x1024, then stretch image by 50% on the horizontal and vertical axes.
  4. Save the file in JPG format. The file size is now at least 20 times smaller.

For example, the above screenshots were produced in this manner. This web-friendly screenshot should be uploaded to the class file server, in the directory designated by the instructor.

Is the screenshot done and uploaded? Congratulations! You have collaborated to construct a new building in Second Life. For example, a screenshot of the ski lift produced by the class on September 8, 2004:

(The chicken is someone else's laboratory. No virtual chickens were harmed during the construction of this ski lift.)


During review, students discuss what went right and what went wrong. Discuss how collaborative building works, and what may be improved. The instructor goes over the evaluation with the students, using the student concept illustrations and screenshots as reference.

Evaluation Details

1.The student participated in design discussion. 
2.The student cooperated with the partner. 
3.The pair constructed its assigned part. 
4.The team assembled a structure. 
5.The structure resembles its concept illustrations. 
6.Textures give a consistent style. 
7.The structure's style is compatible with the surrounding environment. 
8.The structure displays a script. 
9.The team resolved its conflicts. 
10.The student uploaded one unique screenshot of the building to the correct directory. 
11.The screenshot is 640x480 and JPG. 
12.The student participated in the review discussion. 

About the Lab

David Ethan Kennerly directed five massively multiplayer (MMP) games in the US and Korea. He is an author on game design for ITT Tech, Westwood College, Charles River Media,, and the IGDA Persistent Worlds whitepaper. If you have comments or other feedback, please contact the author at: kennerly (AT) finegamedesign (DOT) com

You may view this lab at his website:

You may find out more about the course, Design of Virtual Worlds, taught by Jane Veeder at San Francisco State University.


Second Life is a computer-mediated community, which includes a three-dimensional, interactive environment that may be fully modified online. Here are some useful links to understand Second Life.