The Last Minute Rush – a belated buying guide for Steampunk items in Second Life
by Gordon Soleil
If you’re like me, you tend to wait until the last minute to do your Christmas shopping. It’s a tradition! The crowds; the last-minute sales; the pitched gun battles in the toy and electronics sections; the epic free-for-all as the increasingly panicked shoppers flush out and bring down the few non-crazy sales clerks, their sharpened debit cards waving in the air…ah, the memories. They never quite leave you, even after the most intensive electroshock therapy sessions.
But the problem with all this is where to buy those last-minute (or late!) gifts. This is especially hard in SL, when that perfect item on your loved one’s wishlist might be non-transferable, and the seller might not have set up a gift vendor. Seeing this need, we at the magazine have decided to make a list of stores that sell unique, unusual, and useful items. In addition, we’re also going to review a few non-Second Life gifts you might wish to give to your loved ones in the real world. Most of them are cheap, and all of them are guaranteed to bring smiles to your loved ones’ faces.
JD Mechanical Toy Factory
This charming little store features Count Orlok (from Nosferatu: Eine Symphonie des Grauens, the first vampire film) & Nightmare Before Christmas avatars, propeller packs (vehicle and attachment variants), automaton statues and avatars (including a machine coach and chair with attached automaton servants), a hovering mini-island with cottage and lighthouse for those who prefer something more ostentatious than the standard skybox, and buildings modeled on classical architecture (including an Arc d’Triomphe clone and a rather Gothic haunted house). The upper floor features older items that have been heavily discounted, for those who believe in quality on the cheap.
The Black Canary
I stumbled upon the Black Canary when I was given a L$1000 gift certificate to the place by our esteemed editor Kitsuko Pelazzi. (Thank you for that again, Miss!) Surrounded by a charming, elegant garden, the Black Canary features dozens of Gothic, Steampunk and Gothic Lolita outfits for all genders. I personally prefer the GL outfits, but my tastes run in that direction in any case. All of them are of the highest quality, and the staff and group members (known as Songbirds) are quite helpful in helping one get ones bearings. One caveat, though; all the clothing is designed for those who have at least some element of femininity about themselves, so those who pride themselves on having testosterone sloshing out their ears may be out of luck in this store.
Despite the owner’s atrocious capitalization problems, and the rather generic building style, this store offers some wonderful clothing. Their main market seems to be the adventurer’s market, with the Pirate and Gunner fashions being prominently displayed. (The female variants have scandalously short skirts; some of them come up to mid-thigh!). Also available are male and female clockwork doll avatars (both of which are about three feet tall, and are equally adorable); black leather vampire outfits; a gypsy dress (in name only; it’s quite conventionally Victorian, but still quite chic), and steampunk neko avatars. Cyberpunk outfits also available, should you want to visit a more conventional future.
Lassitude & Ennui
The main shop of this shoe store has been built to look like the ruin of a medieval monastery; it’s very picturesque, and quite the sight to see when you’re comparison-shopping for boots. They specialize in boots of all shapes and sizes for men and women (and those of us who inhabit a happy medium) alike, ranging from practical to haute couture. There’s not much else to say about them; they do very good boots, and that’s about it.
Grim Bros., I’m sure, needs no introduction; they are one of the highest-quality purveyors of steampunk items in Second Life. Highlights include a mechanical window to be mounted on the skull to show the gears inside a person’s head, heavily-detailed automaton avatars (available in both steel and copper), nearly a hundred dresses (both lolita and Victorian, including Alice in Wonderland-themed dresses), creative hairstyles, dozens of tiny avies, and hats galore (including one with a built in TV and a top hat with a built-in muzzleloader pistol, for the ungentlemanly among us)
Terminal 3 Airship Dock
Laid out like actual airship terminal might be, Terminal 3 offers high-quality airships, in prices ranging from 100 to 400L$. The more expensive airships available, the Denoria and Hummelschloss, are capable of actual flight as non-physics objects. Full-size previews of the airships are available to explore before purchase; I highly recommend taking a look around them all; it’s quite fun, even if one doesn’t plan on buying anything. They also offer high-quality weapons made for use with their in-house combat system; I personally recommend the death ray. There is a box to purchase all the weapons at once at a discount, a demo box for all of them, and a free vendor [20% commission].
And now, for several somethings completely different. This three-story complex contains things not you will not be able to find anywhere else, including two Kasa-Obake avatars (umbrellas come to life after existing for a century), an avatar comprised entirely of particle butterflies (only if you’ve got Version 2, though), a dress hammered out of copper and fixed with clockwork, a Happy Cannon (and its competitor, the Happy Missile), a handheld door generator, a flying broomstick chopper, a towering hairstyle designed to look like the inside of a pocketwatch, and a set of platform boots designed to double the height of anyone wearing them. If you’re an aficionado of the strange, like myself, this place will keep you entertained for hours, even if you’re just window-shopping.
Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura
Troika Games, 2001
$5.99 direct download at Good Old Games (GoG.com)
Arcanum is the first game put out by the now-defunct Troika Games, also responsible for the videogame version of the classic D&D module The Temple of Elemental Evil and the first-person RPG Vampire: the Masquerade – Bloodlines. The bare bones of the plot are familiar to anyone who’s ever played an RPG or read a fantasy novel – a mastermind is plotting to kill the entire world, and it’s up to the player to stop them. The devil, though, is in the details. The world of Arcanum was once a standard fantasy world, but the invention of the steam engine by Gilbert Bates, in circumstances that mirror our world’s own industrial revolution quite closely, has brought incredible change, which your character will get to see (and effect) firsthand.
The main reason to play this game is the sheer amount of detail that’s gone into making the world seem real. Mages are forced to sit in the back of trains, lest their magic cause catastrophic failures in the engine. One of the first quests you can undertake involves resolving a years-old intra-familial mining family feud. The Big Bad has an actual, understandable, dare I say sympathetic reason for wanting to kill everyone besides “Bwahaha! I am evil and want to do evil things!” Persuasion actually involves you finding a way to persuade people in dialogue, instead of choosing one dialogue choice and letting the game roll its virtual dice.
Unfortunately, all this comes at the expense of rather clunky level-up and combat systems. Instead of choosing your primary stats at character creation and only leveling up your powers and skills throughout the game, the game makes you grind your primary stats to be able to level your skills up to useful levels. Combined with a hard-coded level cap of 50 (long since removed by a fan-created patch) and most levels only giving your one upgrade point per level, and the game ends up requiring you to plan your character build very carefully, which is a huge hassle for those of us who want to just jump in and explore.
The combat system is similar to the original Fallout games: you have a certain number of action points, depending on your Agility score, and you use them to move, attack, use medicine, etc., until all the bad guys are dead. The enemies and recruitable NPCs have autonomous AI routines that they use to attack. This causes problems when you decide that cutting your losses and running would be the better tactic, but you can’t persuade your allies to do the same, which leads to them shattering their weapons against the bad guy and getting themselves killed.
Ultimately, Arcanum is a flawed gem. If you enjoy exploring vast, detailed worlds with lots of character and little things to discover, you may want to give it a try. It’s only six bucks on GoG.com, so you won’t be out much money, even if you feel the clunkiness of the mechanical parts of the game don’t make up for its rich world.
Black Isle Studios, 1999
$16.79 purchase at Amazon.com
I’m cheating a little by including this in a steampunk magazine. PS:T is technically high fantasy, being set in the city of Sigil at the heart of the second-edition Dungeons and Dragons cosmology. I couldn’t resist it, though; the art style is nothing like standard Tolkien-ripoff fantasy, looking more Victorian than anything else in its melange of artistic influences, and the game may very well be the pinnacle of traditional top-down PC roleplaying games.
The player is the Nameless One, a male human who for reasons unknown wakes up inside Sigil’s massive mortuary with no memories, a message to himself tattooed on his back, and the inability to permanently die. Armed with whatever’s in the room at the time and a need to find his old journal, Nameless ends up on an adventure that will take him across the planes, to hell (well, the Abyss) and back, and will lead to him encountering some of the most fascinating characters ever conceived of.
It’s almost impossible to over-emphasize how well-written this game is. When compared to the “hero saves the world from annihilation” plot invoked in, essentially, every RPG on the market, PS:T‘s hero’s quest for his identity and mortality is the stuff that philosophy and English majors dream of producing in their lifetime. The arc words of the game, “What can change the nature of a man?”, are all but designed to make the players ask themselves that same question.
The mechanics of the game are evolutions of Black Isle’s previous Baldur’s Gate: real time, with pauses to allow the player to set up more complex commands for their individual characters. The recruitable NPCs respond well to orders, and the front end is easy to navigate. The combat, however, is a secondary concern at best compared to the dialogue with NPCs. Each one has the ability to surprise you with their subversion and aversion of RPG tropes. (Indeed, you can go through the entire game with two confirmed kills, one of whom is a zombie.) For example, one conversation early in the game allows you to bluff your way out of trouble by lying about your willingness to kill an NPC for wronging your character.
The recruitable characters are full of surprises, and most of them would make good main characters in their own right. Among them are a ghost bonded to a suit of armor and obsessed with justice, a reformed succubus who runs a brothel for slaking intellectual lusts, a part-demon thief, a man who’s been turned into a portal to the Elemental Plane of Fire, and a wiseass necrophiliac skull.
I’m starting to run short on space, so let me just say this: If you have any love for videogames as a form of expression, you must play this game at least once. Its existence is the greatest argument that can be made that videogames are, or can be, art.
If you liked the RL part of this guide, contact Kitsuko Pelazzi or myself. We’re expanding our coverage of the steampunk scene to include RL events, books, etc., and we’d like your feedback on what you, our readership, would like to see. Cheers, and see you inworld!