One Hour with dio: First Impressions of Linden Lab's Latest Creation Tool (And Whether It's Right for You)
Iris Ophelia's ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style
Like many of you, Linden Lab's dio was not even on my radar until this week. true story: when Hamlet first mentioned it to me I thought he had just typoed "SL" with extra flair. Once I realized I was behind on possibly the latest and greatest thing, I decided to set an hour aside to get to the bottom of all this dio business... And obviously blog the results.
The plan changed somewhat after I actually sat down with the dio beta. I felt almost mislead, and while I agree that dio is neat and has potential for certain projects, it's not always going to be your best option. Here's what I mean:
First and foremost, I felt completely misinformed by the launch trailer above. Maybe it was just me being dense, but the simple style of the animation lead me to believe that this demonstration of dio's capabilities was actually made in dio. Move a character around, interact with the environment... Considering that the screen the character looks at with dio on it is filled with people moving around, animated in the same style that she is, I don't think my assumption was unreasonable. I even set out to make a new room using some Glitch pics I'd saved since, when you think about it, much of Glitch was just a series of connected rooms, full of objects to interact with.
The problem is that dio (as it is now, and yes it is a beta) really only has a few basic things in common with what the trailer shows you: There are rooms, and you can click on objects to interact with them.
Your dio room can have a background, while all of the exits and interactable objects sit on the left-hand side of the room. You can program a range of different interactions for those objects, but you can't (as I tried to do) drag those objects into the frame so you could interact with them in the context of the room, like you see in that trailer. That could change further down the road of course, but essentially you have your interactable items on one side, your chat on the other, and the room itself (a picture, some text, or both) in the middle.
Several astute NWN commenters have already hit the nail on the head: dio is more like a MUCK/MUD/MUSH with pictures than anything else (yes, some young people know what those are too.) It's perfectly neat and functional for what it is, but in a lot of cases it is not going to be the best tool for the job.
In his initial post on dio, Hamlet suggested that content creators (fashion designers in particular) would benefit from making dio rooms based on their in-world store experiences. But to be perfectly honest, having sat down with dio I think that would be one of the least effective uses of the platform (no offense, Hamlet!) If you want to show someone your store and the objects within it, isn't it significantly better to get them in-world, or at least on the marketplace, so they can actually buy? There has been vague talk about L$ being used by dio somehow, but I'm skeptical that LL intends to make dio usable as a SL Marketplace alternative. So, for fashionistas and designers, what's the point?
The end goal of most store experiences is a purchase. The vast, vast majority SL shops are big rooms full of things to buy, and for the most part very little intrigue or interaction beyond that. Even stores that do, for example Bare Rose, often rely on a dynamic social atmosphere that comes a lot more naturally in SL than in the comparatively static spaces of dio. Of course some SL sims can absolutely present an interesting dio experience, but if what you're really looking to do amounts to a slideshow, a catalogue, or a secondary storefront there are practically hundreds of better alternatives out there already... most of which SL designers have been using for years.
I've spent the past week and a half making my own mini visual novel (shown above) in a significantly more powerful (and also free) game creation tool called Ren'py, and that is probably the root of much of my disappointment with dio. Ren'py uses its on ad hoc scripting language in tandem with Python to produce visual novels, dating sims, and even rpgs. I barely know enough HTML to function on the internet, nevermind any other scripting languages, but I was able to pick it up almost immediately. The community for it is massive and your game can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be. You can have sounds and transitions and clickable maps and custom UIs and even inventory systems. The cherry on top is that unlike most other easy DIY game making tools (like RPG Maker, GameMaker, or Novelty) the end result is Mac, Windows, and Linux compatible.
If you want to create some interactive text and not much else, inklewriter is another good alternative, perfect for slightly more straightforward Choose Your Own Adventure-style experiences (for an example, check out Emily Gera's hilarious Congratulations, You are Now a Kotaku Commenter).
As it stands, dio is somewhere in between inklewriter and Ren'py. Is it going to be the next big thing when it comes to online content-creation platforms? I have no idea. Ultimately it's easy to use and easy to share, and it has a lot of great potential storytelling (and even teaching) applications... but it's not the only option, nor is it the best tool for every job. It's up to you to determine which engine will fit your needs and suit your tastes the most.
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Iris Ophelia (Janine Hawkins IRL) has been featured in the New York Times and has spoken about SL-based design at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan and with pop culture/fashion maven Johanna Blakley.