[‘Letters from the Metaverse’ is a regular weekly column by Mathew Kumar about his adventures in the massively multiplayer online world of Second Life. This week’s column covers adventure games in Second Life.]

Oh Second Life. We’ve had some interesting times, you and me, over the past 8 weeks we’ve been together. Mostly, I must admit, I’ve been complaining about the games I’ve played with you. “Too glitchy!” I’d think, bemoaning a lack of polish, or “Not user friendly!” I’d sigh, wishing for a better interface with the world the game was trying to present to me. I’m beginning to think I’ve been a little too harsh on all of those bedroom coders and Second Life architects. You see, maybe it’s not them. It’s you.

2006_08_22_arrival.jpg
Now don’t get me wrong, here. I think Second Life is interesting, and it’s certainly getting around – I noticed this week that Warren Ellis (creator of comic series Transmetropolitan, and many more greats, including the superb recent Desolation Jones) has begun blogging about it, and there was a big convention or something last week? But I’m coming to the conclusion that Second Life is almost completely unsuitable for any kind of games other than the simplest (by which I mean board games, or Tringo variants) until there are some major upgrades, because I’ve never been quite as frustrated in Second Life as I have been trying to play “The Pot Healer’s Adventure” on the island of Numbakulla.

2006_08_22_village.jpgNumbakulla is the adventure “sim” that is (kind of) supposed to be a Second Life version of Myst or Riven – a gentle mystery that you must unfold while exploring the island.

It’s set up quite wonderfully – when you teleport to the island you find yourself stood in front of a ship wreck, and can grab the notebook object required to play, and (if you choose) wear some game specific clothing. From that point on you begin exploring, anywhere or anyhow you wish, picking up objects such as keys, and using them in other areas.

The Pot Healer’s adventure relies quite heavily on “tooltips” (those small pieces of information you see when you hover your cursor over something) as otherwise you’d never have any idea what was of use, and it has a nice collection of notes and text fragments scattered around the island to help you unravel the plot, which is admittedly still somewhat obscure to me now.

The island is incredibly nice and well constructed (visually, at least). There are flaws, here and there (the odd spelling mistake, and so on) but by and large it does feel harsh to blame the problems I experienced on the creators, but the unfortunate fact is, however, that a litany of errors simply made me give up in frustration.

2006_08_22_ship.jpgTo list only a few, climbing any stairs or high slopes looks ridiculous as my character bobbles about, bashing into them until he miraculously manages to glitch himself over them. There’s a waterfall that there is no escape from. Second Life seems to allow the ability to ‘sit down’ on doors and warp through them; I did this by accident, actually, and found myself trapped inside a boulder. It’s just all so glitchy and ruinous, that compared to the cold, immaculate (and in my case, alienating) perfection of Riven or Myst, the illusion is completely destroyed by my regular battles with the interface and Numbakulla’s battles with the engine.

The plus side, of course, is that in this case, it’s free, and if you take a ride around the island on the flying ship you can see it all without having to deal with the glitchy movement of your character. If you can put up with it, however, Numbakulla does seem to feature an in-depth (if a little obscure) adventure that is probably better played in a group.

[Mathew Kumar is a freelance journalist who’s dabbled in MMORPGs, but is too cheap/strong willed to play past a free trial. He got his break with Insert Credit, and his work has been featured in publications as diverse as The Globe and Mail, Game Reactor (translated into Danish!), and Eurogamer. He's just started a workblog. Why don't you visit it if you want to find out more?]