Monday, March 29, 2010

Svarga - Second Life's Virtual Ecosystem Experiment

Svarga, a preserved relic from Second Life's past

There is alot of buzz recently about a place called Svarga. I first read about Svarga a few days ago on Ziki Questi's blog (great blog), and later learned, from an article in New World Notes, that Linden Lab had purchased the sim from its creator. This is a sim that has been essentially frozen in time as of 2006 and had suddenly disappeared from the grid last summer. The buzz is about Svarga's restoration to Second Life, and how  Linden Lab deemed its legacy so important that it purchased the sim and brought it back from limbo. Svarga was once selected as one of the Seven Wonders of the Digital World by the Second Life Project. And Philip Linden describes Svarga as coming close to his original vision for Second Life. Now that really peaked my interest. I teleported myself to Svarga. 

Click on the pictures to enlarge them to their original size for better viewing.

Taking the tour of Svarga conducted by a waspish tour guide

Svarga was build by Laukosargas Svarog, a former game designer living in the  United Kingdom. In mythology, Svarga is the heavenly abode of the Slavic god Svarog, the supreme god of the Slavic pantheon and the god of fire and blacksmithing. This is very fitting as Laukosargas is a master builder who has been described as playing god in this virtual world. Work began on Svarga in 2004 and nothing was added since 2006. That was the old stone age in Second Life time - a time before sculpted and flexible prims. When you visit Svarga, keep in mind that all the contents of the sim were built with basic SL primitives.

The Landscape on Svarga
(Note the red/yellow/orange plant on my right)

Teleporting to Svarga lands you on a welcoming pavillion on a small island outside the gate of the main entrance. At the pavillion, I was confronted by a giant wasp with a wicked stinger. The creature turned out to be a harmless tour guide; so, I jumped on its back and took the tour. It was great fun swooping high and low over the island. And the tour narrative offered interesting information about Svarga and its history. The story goes that this island utopia was formed by the collapsed caldera of a very old volcano, and, here, Laukosargas Svarog conducted her experiments in artificial life. More on that later.

Giant Twirlyshrooms

The landscape has a delightful nostalgic look about it. My friend Jaysun describes it as 'flintstone', meaning cartoony. Certainly, landscaping in Second Life has evolved far beyond what we see here; but I believe that this look is definitely planned ... it's artistically surreal. And there is detail and complexity here that is amazing given the building material available at the time. It's a quality build that stands up well even today.

The Castle Tower with its spires, bridges, and pavillions

The focal point of the island is the castle tower with its spires and sweeping complex of bridges and pavillions. The tower rises out of the soil of Svarga and spreads like a giant flowering plant. Indeed, the tower is an architectural expression of the plant that I drew your attention to earlier. A Gaian worship of nature permeates the sim. There are nice views of the island from the bridges and the pavillions. Note the little back smudges in the pictures above the tower. Those are rain clouds that form and travel on SL winds dropping precipitation on all areas of Svarga.

Svarga's Collection of Elven Musical Instruments

The SL Hamsa (protecting hand) decorating the castle

Jaysun and I found a great photo opportunity

In the top chamber of the tower are books on Second Life

What is so special about Svarga?

I had a very enjoyable time exploring Svarga. It is definitely worth the visit. The sim has many delightful attractions. However, I was expecting to visually experience one of the seven wonders of the virtual world. By that standard, I was somewhat underwhelmed. In its time, Svarga may have been at the pinnacle of sim design; but, I have seen many sims that have since far surpassed it visually and artistically. I had many questions.

What was it about this sim that drew so much praise and acclaim for its creator and her creation? Why was this sim deemed so important that it must be preserved? What did Philip Linden mean when he said that Svarga comes close to his original vision for Second Life? He couldn't have wanted this 'flintstone' look to be the standard in Second Life, could he?

Laukosargas Svarog's Experiment in Artificial Life

There is more here than meets the eye. While strolling around Svarga, Jaysun and I met a charming SL old timer and Svarga enthusiast named Clinton Oddfellow who filled us in on the real significance of Svarga. He explained that Svarga is a self-contained fully functioning ecosystem. I found a detailed description of this highly complex ecosystem with its interrelationships and interdependencies and its self-replicating artificial life forms in an article by Wagner James Au appearing in New Word Notes that began with this wonderful introduction: 

"In the beginning, Linden Lab created the heavens and the earth, but the sky was empty and the land was barren. The trees were green but did not grow, the sun and wind passed overhead but did not affect them.

Then Laukosargas Svarog came upon this and said, Come, let us make clouds so that they can be borne upon the wind. She did, and it was good. Then Laukosargas said, Let these clouds cast rain upon the ground, and where the land is marshy, let marshy flowers bloom, and where the land is open, let open flowers bloom. And let the sun shine upon these, and where the sun shines brightest, let them grow more, and where it shines least, let them lay fallow. This she also did, and it was good. Seeing this, Laukosargas said, Let bees fly amongst these flowers to pass their seed between each other, and thus be fruitful and multiply. Then she said, Let there be birds to feast upon the seeds, lest these flowers be too fruitful and multiplicitous. This she did as well, and it was likewise good."
God Game (New World Notes May 31, 2006)

This New World Notes article is a must read for any visitor to Svarga. The ecosystem of Svarga is a fascinating and important experiment that establishes the reputation of Svarga as one of the wonders of the virtual world. Clinton Oddfellow informs me that, when the ecosystem of the restored Svarga is fully operational and after a passage of time, the sim will be filled with life. I hope you plan a visit to Svarga to see this piece of Second Life history and perhaps to also get a glimpse at the future of virtual worlds. 


More Articles on New World Notes about Svarga

Why Svarga's for Sale (New World Notes December 10, 2008)

Svarga is back in Second Life (New World Notes March 22, 2010)

The Praise is Not Universal.

Socialist Sim Svarga Resurfaces (Second Thoughts March 22, 2010)

Svarga Videos:

Related Posts:

Le Mont Saint Michel in Second Life (November 28, 2009)

Mariko Magic: Moorish Dreams (November 11, 2009)

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