What Planet is This?

19 Jul 2005

The Ocean Theatre

There was a fly-on-the-wall documentary recently about noise pollution where a guy had spent his life savings building a community theatre and was now being ordered to add sound insulation due to the complaints of a neighbour. But since he'd already spent pretty much everything he had, he couldn't afford the exhorbitant sound-proofing costs, and though the programme didn't provide an update, it seems likely that the theatre was shut down.

If only theatres were a lot easier to set up, and more people could get to them, eh? Enter, The Internet! As previously reported, some friends and I have been fiddling around with a computer game that lets you build practically anything you could think of in a virtual space. One of the first ideas of things to build that Morbus came up with was that of a virtual theatre.

The piece of "land" that we own, Swhackovia (I'd've called it Swhackland), is by an area which is like a bay or a sea, so we've tentatively settled on calling it the Ocean Theatre. The advantage of having the sea for a backdrop is that it takes time and processor cycles to render any graphics within the current view, so if you're watching a stage that has a lot of stuff behind it, it'll be much slower and less smooth.

At the moment, we only have a very rudimentary stage and a few prototype seats up, but we're hoping to buy some better materials. I did say it was free, and it pretty much is in terms of real money, but within the game you have only a certain amount of virtual money that you can spend in order to stop people from overdeveloping. Thankfully, Adam just happened to have been playing for a while and was kind enough to get us the land, so we don't have any problems there. We also have Cody, who's already whipped up a great logo for the theatre. And it only took him five minutes.

As for the types of things that we'll be staging... obviously I've been quite excited about it from the Shakspearean point of view, but I doubt that we'll ever do a Shakespeare play. I don't think it'll translate across to the virtual theatre very well given that the kind of people playing will be looking for something that is a) much more contemporary, and b) shorter. So we'll be looking to do various bits of comedy, perhaps some modified recent plays, or whatever we can manage to conjure up ourselves. I'm also interested in the thoughts of William Loughborough, an old friend of mine, on it, given his involvement in Alan Myerson's improvisational theatre troupe The Committee.

The actual design of the arena is quite challenging. I'd at first wanted an amphitheatre, but that's a very difficult thing to implement because you have to fit lots of small pieces together, and to make a big curve out of that isn't easy. The game also sets a definite limit on the distance over which voices can be heard, so that instantly limits the size of the theatre, especially given that the stage itself is going to take up a lot of space.

It's possible, however, to have things floating in mid-air in the game, so if we want to put an extra level of seats in, that'll be quite easy. We even have the theatre's logo floating right now behind the stage, and it's translucent to about 60% so that you can see the seagulls flying behind it, or the sun setting. The seats are hard to get right, because the ergonomics of the game are not really much like those in real life: for example, when you sit on an object, you can only approach it from the direction in which you want to face. Since we're so limited on space anyway, one stipulation we're thinking about for the benches is that they can be stepped over from behind, so that people don't have to go around them. It's tricky navigating your character through a thin aisle.

The whole theatre is sat upon a promontory, and there's a small backstage area that we can place various bits of set equipment on, and enter the stage from. The sign behind the stage floats over the backstage area, but can be jumped through, so it can be thought of as being somewhat like a hologram. The only piece of equipment that we've made so far is a small box called "boxy" (it even has its own logo, courtesy of Cody again). Thanks to a very small piece of LSL that I cooked up, it responds to any line containing the string "ping" with the line "pong!". We've used it to sound out the edge of the audible area around the stage, thus giving us the practical boundary for the theatre.

When we're not using the stage for plays and such, we may convert it to host gameshows, and popular games such as tringo, which is a hybrid of tetris and bingo that we often play. Today I managed to win a game of it with a score of 285, which is pretty much as high as the games get (think in terms of bowling perhaps), but I'm not sure whether our rather small theatre is large enough to be a tringo venue. If not, we could always swap a different set of seats in quite easily. Such are the benefits of a virtual theatre.

Cite: Palmer, S.B. (2005). "The Ocean Theatre", in: What Planet is This?
Archival URI: http://inamidst.com/notes/oceantheatre


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