Monday, August 14, 2023

Drivers of SL

By Bixyl Shuftan
In a virtual world in which you can get from place to place by teleporting and flying, people in Second Life don't really need a car. But many of us have one or more and use them anyway. Sometimes people will use them to race. There's also cargo delivery games in which cars and trucks are an option. But sometimes people will go ahead and take them out for a leisurely drive with no particular destination. Or perhaps there is a destination, but you're not in a particular hurry to get there, and the real fun is cruising and watching the scenery go by. As one particular Chuck Berry song put it:

Riding along in my automobile
My baby beside me at the wheel
I stole a kiss at the turn of a mile
My curiosity runnin' wild
Cruisin' and playin' the radio
With no particular place to go.

For those who like driving for it's own sake, there's a group in Second Life for them: Drivers of SL. I heard of this group thanks in part to the videos posted by Zady Bury. Talking to her about the group, she had a few things to say. She stated the drives aren't designed by just one person, but "there are multiple people checking them, before (they) become released. ... because every driver, every computer, or connection reacts different. So the programmer might have no problems (but) the normal drivers might have ... trouble," going onto say the group has over five thousand members. None of the drives are outright races in which there's a declared winner, "Some of the drives are also 'cooperations' with e.g. 'Grid Haul' or 'GTFO'. And some drives work together with the sponsors ... others just finish, and then TP to the location/store of the sponsor.

The drives vary a lot. Zada brought up one announcement of a drive not long before we talked:

"Capital Motors Grid Drive in One Hour  ---  There's more than one way to complete the four, unnecessarily and increasingly difficult challenges you'll travel to on this weekend's drive, but it is not likely that most will complete more than 1 or 2 of them, so don't get frustrated, because either way you'll get an awesome reward from Capital Motors upon finishing this trip!

"VEHICLES NEEDED: Road Vehicle (any), Watercraft (any), Aircraft (any plane recommended, but helis will work too)

"First drive 11.30a Or Midnight"

So what were the rewards for doing a run? Zada would tell me they were " 'different in their quality.' At 'Surplus Motors,' we got the regular vehicles. ... Average vehicle shops (also air, ship, etc.) sponsor the drives. But it can be anything. Once we got weapons, other time (period) clothes, gadgets, etc.) To be honest, yes, a great reward makes fun. But it can also just be 'something' (simple), as the most fun in the driving."

From Zada Bury's Youtube
Of who leads the group, Zada told me with a smirk, "Well, the 'head' or face of the DoSL is Christi Charron. But the drives and so are teamworks. Meaning they are most times for each week 'programmed' individually,. so you need an idea, checking the possible ways, and so on. I could also (try) programming a drive, but I struggle with the tool for it. It is pretty powerful. Christi seems to manage it all, or showing the directions." She would go on to say she never saw her scolding anyone or telling them to make changes, "I think she is a 'networking central.'"

She went on to say that with the large number of people in the group, there were some who wanted longer drives than others, "a usual discussion is the length of a drive, which depends on a lot factors. Some are faster around, others slower ... works the sim-crossings or makes SL trouble,. and all of that. There are the people (who feel) '2-3 hours are enough,' and (those who) want '5 hours and more!' It is like 'you can't make it right for all.' Lately after the normal drives, (there is) also a 'bonus leg' added, which seems to be a good solution for me. So, you do the normal drive, get the reward, and (whose who) have time (or the urge), doing also the 'bonus leg.'" 

Zada would say some places were easier to drive through than others, "(A) nice to drive is Bellisseria, about the road network and rezz-zones, and more friendly (and enforced) community standards about ban-lines and security-orbs. Zindra is often complaints about the lag and so, well, the lands are 'full', lot various textures, or lag, than sims with (a) lot abandoned lands on the 'normal' mainland. Also the Zindra-roadnetwork is, a shame. Private islands are difficult, as them are not connected, but the NavHUD can Teleport. Mainland works best. Some roads are or were made in the past 'unlucky', crossings over 4 sim-edges, for example, but most drivers can handle it."

from Zada Bury's Youtube
The group had people with all kinds of avatars, "Everything is ok, human (for sure), furry, anime, feral, dinkies, some also toddlers . The Japanese drivers ("Inaka-Team") is often also around in pretty strange avis. Also it does not matter, if mesh or classic." This wasn't usually a problem, but there could occasionally be complications. Child avatars could get in trouble in some places in Zindra. And when going through private areas, "if they make limitations, (the drivers) can decide to 'swallow it or no visit.' One land made (among) their rules no furries for example. There are such things, where we enforce own rules. at other areas. One example is the National Forest, no motor vehicles, for example." While some could switch to bikes or horses, "I use a feral vixen *smiles*  The "National Forest" parcel had a huge, VERY huge cave system."

Zada went on, "The drives bring you to or along interesting places, you maybe would never (have) seen or visited before. Oh, and the people, you find there people you never would have expected." Zada told me she met one from an old comic project, as well as community people in Zindra and other places, "and building up some 'other'relationships."

Of the navigation HUD, "the programming takes work, nothing to do automatic. If you have a long straight road, easy. But even if it just have a curve , you need to set the waypoints along it, even the NavHUD might not need to give orders, like turn in x meters left/right' and walking is even more detailed."

Another of the Drivers of SL group I talked to was Jazzimus Maxwell. He maintains the three Drivers of SL headquarters, and we met at the first one. The group had over 5000 members. Jazzimus felt it had a few hundred when it started. The group drives every Saturday at Noon and Midnight SL time. Jazzimus guessed on any one drive, between twenty and eighty take part. "We also have events each year ... usually summer and winter camping events, boating and driving while camping. We get a land sponsor and you get a space to camp, with limited prims of course. It's very popular. Oh, and we do a space camp too. We work together with GTFO! as well. That's another thing as thats a whole other 'game' within a game. And we do a GTFO drive each month, meaning we incorporate GTFO on the grid drive. ... You collect XP points for delivering goods to and from GTFO hubs on the roads, or on water or in space. They do not equate to any physical rewards, just points."

"The neat thing about Drivers of SL," Jazzimus went on, "is it's a way to socialize and have fun. A lot of people need friendship ... and this is a great way to start. We also work with the Roadway Cruiser Group at the end of each month, we usually do s sim track drive on those." He would mention they were somewhat linked to the Leeward Cruising Club and the Skyward Flying Club, "driving, flying, boating, they have events each week as well, and they provided a HUD for each event. Not as complex mind you as our NaviHUD, but more of a locator HUD. They also socialize at the end of each event with a dance party. We only works (with) the Roadway Club officially, but a lot of our members are in all three groups as well."
He would also say the group had a Flickr page, a blog, and several drivers who posted on Youtube, including Zada Bury.
Jazzimus would then take me out for a drive in a Tide racecar, leading to a joke or two about "making a clean getaway." We drove around on the mainland for a while, crossing a bridge or two and at one point going offroad. After riding around in a while, we went on a plane for a while, going over the water, passing some ships and islands, eventually landing on a small aircraft carrier. 

I would also have a few words with the group's founder Christi Charron. Christi is also known for being in the Second Life Cheerleading Squad. Talking to her, she told me the HUD used by Drivers in SL had it's orgin in the SLCS, "Originally the Nav HUD we use was created for the Second Life Cheerleading Squad, and was used for friends to find our weekly friday 'Destination Unknown' party. where you HAD to follow the navigation HUD to find it, after having being given the starting point. Patty Croquet, a SLCS Cheerleader and super geniun, created the NAV HUD for us, and still improves on it today. The Nav HUD is what makes it all possible.

"We stopped having the parties and after a few years I dusted off the HUD to go for a drive, and sent a group notice in a few vehicle groups asking if anyone wanted to join.  When I showed up for the drive, there were 30 or so people there, and I was expecting one or none. So that was a clue that others enjoyed this, and we just began having them weekly from then on, and the Nav HUD has vastly improved during that time, as it can now track what we're doing inworld as well as point us where to go."

She would tell me the events became weekly in September 2017, and the group, "increases at an average rate of 100 new members per month or so. We've done one every week, sometimes two or three for our periodic weekend camping events. So around 60 per year for over five years now.  Each drive is like a simple video game mission. Some are more complex than others." I asked her how complex can they get and what was the most complex one. Her answer, "A simple 'go here go there' drive takes about 16 hours to create, the average drive takes about 30 hours to create. Some can take as much as 80 hours of work or so.  The most complex drive we had I think was within a storyline resembling 'Back to The Future,' where they went forward in time and have to go into space to steal plutonium from a satellite to have fuel to return back to their own timeline.   Some have had helicopters chasing them like a James Bond movie. and some have had a string of 30+ (drone) police cars chasing them across an entire continent.

"The one that gets the most comments is likely 'A Christmas Drive' we (typically) do annually, it is a mix of 'Its a Wonderful Life' and 'A Christmas Carol,' where the person doing the drive is cast as the role of a combination of Scrooge and George Baily.  It shows them 'what SL would be like if its closing' due to people not getting premium accounts or spending money. It kinda shows them that someday this could and will likely have an ending, one I saw similarly in another online game Ii played as a teen."

Of the game's sponsors, "Every drive has a 'sponsor.' The sponsor of that drive has their name associated with that drive, ie : 'Capital Motors Grid Drive.'   Each sponsor supplies a reward to be given to every person who completes the drive within its two week time-frame. After two weeks, the drive reward may no longer be available, Drive rewards are almost exclusively cars, but can be boats or planes. almost always its a vehicle.  If the reward isn't a vehicle, they're usually given one elsewhere in the drive.  Each drive ends AT the sponsors store, where they're shown their car demos if any, and vendors, and are directed to join their VIP group if they want, and even visit their MP store.  It improves the sponsor's sales and get them some exposure that can otherwise take many months or more. We typically have  sponsors scheduled Three months in advance, so its very popular with vehicle sellers. Sometimes an airport or some other location will sponsor a drive, and find a reward to give us."

And what was the most unusual reward? " We have gotten some crazy ones. most of the super unusual ones come in the form of 'Easter eggs.'  They may be hidden in a crate they're delivering for someone else as part of the drive, and would only be seen if they look in the box out of curiosity.  Some have been some really unusual 'walkers' that have you sitting on what amounts to a bug with 6-8 articulated, animated legs, that actually move like legs, and push the vehicle forward. They can even climb up walls (laughter)."

I then asked with the builder of the HUD being with a Relay group, have there ever been any fundraising Drives? Christi answered, "Most dont realize that The Drivers of SL is owned by The Second Life Cheerleaders, but that connection is being made more evident more and more over time. We have had fundraising drives and have one yearly that both ends at, and tours the annual RFL walk, the nav hud continues to direct them around the track after their initial drive, and points out interesting locations, as well as encouraging them to donate to RFL.  We don't do as many charity drives as we should, though many end at the monthly SLCS Funday Charity Events for RFL purposely for that reason. I typically embed things like that within drives, vs. making them entirely charity focused, as I fear that might give some the impression we have an agenda other than just having fun each week. This group is more focused on helping each other and treating each other well than most i think and hope.  It's more of a giant group of friends than it is a random touring group. 
From Zada Bury's Youtube
"We try to make sure everyone is included, and even try to translate most drives into Japanese for our growing population of friends from there. Typically 350 complete each drive with the two week timeframe.  over the years to come, another 200 or so will do the drives from the archives. Pyo Igaly (who is a Japanese female) assists with the Japanese translation, and works hard to help with that as well as tst the drive. LukeFlywalker Fittinger also tests the drives weekly and broadcasts a weekly radio show for the drivers. Eowyn Southmoore and Camanula Aeon help host the two drive times we have weekly, as I'm very absent minded and will forget to send the notices out otherwise (laughter).  and Jules Catlyn does a great job in helping to moderate group chat and to spread an infectious, nice temperment within the group."

Bringing up the Japanese drivers, I asked if the group was getting the most interest from Japanese users besides American ones. Christi answered, "I believe there as many or more Europeans/British and Russians doing the drive collectively as folks from the US. The Midnight Drive each week has the most attendance, and is made up of mostly non US participants."

I asked about some of the more interesting personalities in the group. Christi's respons was, "Oh My God, a grid drive start can be like a Mardi Gras parade.  Some drive conventional vehicles, but some are crazy and may have a restaurant on the back of a truck or otherwise resemble parade floats (laughter).  People who attend drives become friends quickly and the , particularly midnight drivers, are really a varied sampling of avatar and personality types from SL.  Some may be furries or goth avs, some may be  more 'kawaii', some very military. But we all know each other well and get along well as a fun group of friends that has sort of a 'misfit' feel to it, in a good way.

"Nadnerb is a pony av for instance. Beylana wear black always and makes sex toys. I do SLCS stuff, but were all very good friends who may not have otherwise met. Its an interesting and funny (combination) in person. One avatar who is Bender from Futurama, makes us all laugh constantly with his quick wit. As a group we take our time, and typically take about 5 hours to complete a drive that takes a single person around an hour. Most don't do the drive as a group. About half or more do the drive alone, or with their small group of friends. If we have challenges during the drive, completing them is a never a requirement for completing the drive and getting the reward. One can always skip those portions is we have them in a drive.  some take a helicopter down the road where they're instructed to use a car, and may even ask in group if this is okay, and it is, pretty much anything goes and one should have fun on a drive in the manner they see fit, in their own vehicles of their choosing, usually ones they've customized, or even made entirely on their own."

From Zada Bury's Youtube
Going over the HUD, she would say, "The Nav HUD is pretty specific about where they go, and even for how long sometimes,  we try to give them as much slack as we can but have things like banlines and peoples private parcels we have to worry about keeping them from invading. It has a simple arrow that points in the 12:00 position if headed the right way. If they need to veer right some, the arrow would be more in the 2:00 position or so. As an example, many drivers stream their grid drives weekly, or make videos of them afterwards. And they're interesting to watch, particularly for me, as I can see how they're reacting to the hud instructions as well as a vehicle I may have created. Some are Japanese, I can see how they're reacting to the translated version as well.

"Each week I try to do something someone usually doesnt know or expect that a hud can do. Zada Bury creates short videos of her drive that show the highlights:  this one is her doing the Christmas drive where they have to deliver presents to Drivers' homeowners across Bellisseria, for a person they assume is Santa. In this particular drive, Santa's truck has a surprise in that it allows them to walk, while still seated on the truck, and the nav hud tells the truck when to do this (so they can deliver presents to Drivers homeowners in Bellisseria without their vehicle being returned). The nav hud can teleport them, fade their screen in and out, tell where an object is, or if the avatar is sitting, and if so on what, and can make them sit for so long, or get a drink or other attachment and detect it, or even make them fly the entire course on autopilot, and at high speeds, up to 300 mph. A typical avatar driving speed is around 25 mph otherwise.

From Zada Bury's Youtube
"We also use planes, boats spaceships, and even have camping events 2-3 times a year where we camp n the snow, space, or even on boats for the entire weekend. One has to drive to the event to find the campground, which is part of the experience, similar to the original SLCS 'desintation unknown' parties originally intended for use with the nav hud. The camping events are really popular and have around 200 people or so camping in their vehicles all weekend, or sitting around the bonfire playing games or dancing.

"While we promote businesses and patronize peoples parcels and builds each week, and give them traffic theyre likely imagined when building their place, we have a not so well known agenda in promoting spending money on SL in general, whether through premium accounts, or buying merchandise or rent, in a small effort to try and help extend the longevity and viability of SL for Linden Labs."

It should be noted that the conversations I had with Zada, Jazzimus, and Christi took place a few months ago. Since then, their main headquarters had moved to the Hugues sim, and "the other at the airport got a massive makeover and so it moved." I would also be told the number of people in the group had gone up to over 6100.
The drives are continuing, with the drivers having fun.

One can follow Zada Bury's videos on her Youtube channel here:

For the Flickr page, (some pictures iffy for work)

Bixyl Shuftan

1 comment:

  1. Just a few days ago I discovered the existence of this travel idea. Before that I were traveling some mainland roads even by foot. But this is much better. Now I am in the midst of my first guided road trip using the Navigation-HUD. And I am literally blown away. Within my years since 2007 in SL I never have experienced the open world charakter of SL alike, and the current tour (by using a motorycle) pulles me to real stunning sights and is very immersive.