Tuesday, 11 March 2008

The Hospital

Recent weeks have seen a few announcements about things medical in Second Life - basically, companies were using the recent HIMMS'08 healthcare conference as a virtual marketing opportunity, as I posted in this little item. This was in the back of my mind when I was pootling around the North-Eastern corner of the Second Life map - an area rich in academic sites, if you have the patience to look. After a couple of quick "fishing trips" I was about to leave the area when I espied The Hospital. Given its location in the midst of a slew of university and teaching sims, I assumed it would be something educational. And indeed, in one sense, it is - but not in a medical sense.

The sim in question turns out to be the Second Life site for a rather (I will say) exclusive London club. The Hospital, according to their website, is "on the site of an 18th Century hospital in Covent Garden... [and] has evolved into London’s pre-eminent centre for the Creative and Media communities." Somewhere in its 7 floors there's actually TV and music recording studios. Apparently, and slightly bizarrely perhaps, the club is "the vision of Paul G. Allen co-founder of Microsoft and Dave Stewart, musician and producer."

The Second Life version strikes me as a slighty odd beast, and I will explain why in due course. It has been built by London-based virtual world consultancy, Rivers Run Red, and in general looks very smart, making excellent use of textures and lighting effects to convey a strongly immersive 3D impression.

You enter a plain, red brick building and find yourself in some sort of anteroom. If you call the lift, you will be transported to the gallery, which currently houses a Warhol vs Banksy exhibition. In first life, this was held in August'07 - but is still going strong in Second Life. It is an extensive and beautifully detailed exhibition, and well worth the entrance fee. The "shiny floor" effect looks great, too. Returning to the anteroom you can walk down to the restaurant/bar area and a cinema. Comparing the SL versions with the pictures on the website, they look like a more than passable rendering of the originals. Outside, there's a garden area and an outdoor auditorium. However, there are also signs of "temporary dwellings" - a cabin on a hilltop that seems out of place... and more spectacularly, a number of items of furniture and greenery "parked" in mid-air, as if awaiting placement.

While locating the builders, I checked the properties of a couple of benches outside the brick building. As well as identifying the builders as RRR, they also identified their original clients as Vodafone. And this set me thinking. I don't know when this sim came onstream. Is it relatively new (and due for an overhaul at some point)? Does it date back to August, built to coincide with the exhibition in the real Hospital? Re-using stuff is, of course, fine - though I would be inclined to rename the objects in question. But the sim, for all its indoor excellence, looks disjointed and unready in the outdoor areas. Perhaps it was built mainly for machinima and perhaps some hosted events, and really only meant to be seen indoors?

My confusion is compounded by a press statement, which dates from August'07. This states that the sim is the fruit of a partnership between The Hospital and RRR. "The partnership will see both parties cross-marketing each others services with The Hospital offering clients of its Covent Garden base the opportunity to ‘simul-launch’ their products on The Hospital branded island in Second Life developed by Rives Run Red." You can lay hands on a copy of the whole thing here (ignore the date - it's a Word document & it's using a 'today's date' field).

So I'm left wondering: What is the current status of the sim, and of the partnership between these two? Why is the outside relatively cursory, while the inside is rather finely detailed? Is it being rebuilt - or is it just right?

Whatever the answer to these largely rhetorical questions, it's an interesting site. I particularly like the exhibition space, which is both educational and brilliantly executed. Here's a bundle of snaps - but it's better seen in the (virtual) flesh:


Mal Burns said...

A little anecdote on this. "The Hospital" in RL also hosts the Virtual Worlds Forum Europe meetup - next one on 19th March. Worth a drop-in perhaps.

Group is at http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=4562976005

Aleister Kronos said...

Thanks Mal.

I noticed, while rummaging on Google (there must a word for that) that RRR hosted a "do" there during last year's VWFE thing.