Making Patterns

Patterns became the first of Linden Lab’s new products to be made available to the public with an initial debut on Thursday October 4th in what the Lab calls the “Genesis Release”. This has been (and remains) available at a discount price of $9.95 on the Patterns website. The “full” release of the product will apparently not be until “late” 2013 – presumably to give both users and Linden Lab plenty of time to add to the Patterns universe and make it something truly unique – and at a price of $19.95.

As I pre-ordered my copy back in September, I was quite keen to find out what Patterns is like – and provide some initial feedback.

Downloading and Installing

Patterns is being made available through Steam, so you’ll need to sign-up there if you’re planning to try the Genesis Release for yourself. To download the software, you’ll need an activation code, which will be e-mailed to you. Use this with the Product Activation process within the Steam client to initiate download and installation – full instructions accompany the activation key. Installation is an automated process, leaving you with the option of starting Patterns from your Steam Library, your desktop, via shortcut, your start menu, and so on. No fuss, no bother, as with all Steam installations (or all (three) that I’ve seen). In this lies a hint as to how Second Life will arrive on people’s computers once the SL / Steam link-up is completed.

Start-up and First Looks

Launching Patterns is somewhat similar to the first use of SL: the first thing you’re asked to do is to agree to a very familiar Terms of Service (although it has some notable and obvious exceptions, the term “boilerplate” sprang to mind reading it – but then, why should LL reinvent their legal wheel?). Confirming your acceptance of the ToS brings up the Patterns splash screen in full.

Clicking PLAY presents you with the options to RESUME, or start a NEW session. HELP displays  some basic instructions for using Patterns (how to move, how to collect materials, how to build, etc.), while OPTIONS displays those setting you can tweak. The look of both these latter screens is perhaps best termed “retro”.

NEW gives you three options: 1, 2, 3. These refer to the number of individual game sessions you can create and save – so it is possible to have up to three sessions of Patterns ongoing, although you can only ever use one of them at a time.Start and save three sessions, however, and you’ll have to overwrite one of them the next time you select NEW.

Once you’ve started a session and the game has loaded, you’re inside a large pyramid, and need to break out. This is done by pressing and holding the right mouse button and “busting” some of the material comprising the pyramid’s walls. This breaks the material (“substance”, in Patterns parlance, which left me wondering if I was guilty of substance abuse when smashing up walls and objects…) into its component triangles, which you can then collect as you “fire” at them – they are added to the requisite substance counter at the top of the screen. You can then use any substances you have acquired (up to the total number collected) to build objects of your own.

Starting out

Note that not all materials appear to be “bustable”; some may collapse as you fire at them, some may not (such as the “bedrock” supporting each of the floating platforms). Also note that “busting” objects and walls, etc., is range limited, with out-of-range objects being outlined in yellow, and those you can break-up in green.

Once outside, you’re in a platform-like world, where you can continue use the right mouse button to assist you in collecting a range substances you may wish to use for building later, differentiated by look and texture, each with differing properties to be discovered as you gain familiarity with the game.

In order to build, you must first start collecting shapes. This involves finding special “starene” objects in-world and then busting them. Building is done using the left mouse button to select a shape from your shape tray (or use the number keys), then selecting the preferred substance from the menu of substances at the top right of the screen (you can only use the substances you have collected). There are a couple of basic rules for building, which are square faces will only snap to square faces and triangles to other triangles. suitable surfaces are outlined in green. It’s here that the different properties of the substances come into their own: some are better suited to certain tasks / situation than others.

A “starene” object which contains a building shape

There is also the small matter of physics as well, which can make itself felt whatever you’re doing (try bridging a gap between platforms with the wrong materials, and you’ll see what I mean). Be wary of trying to jump between platforms, or stepping off the edge of the one you’re on. If you fall a decent distance, you’ll come to the shattering conclusion it may have been a mistake. Be careful of anything overhead as well, when building upwards.

Shapes can also be rotated using the R key. Shape placement is a matter of determining what you want to do, and manoeuvring the camera to a position where you can actually do it – and, use the green outline of shape faces as a guide. Here is where Patterns again follows the Second Life model: camera placement leaves a lot to be desired. You can toggle between views using TAB, and move the camera up/down, left/right by moving the cursor around the screen, but it is still something of a PITA – moreso if you’re an SL user, as the temptation is to tap ESC to try to reset the camera is strong; however, in Patterns, all it will do is display the main menu.

Woot! My first bridge

Nevertheless, with a little trial an effort, it is possible to start building things – as my first bridge between platforms shows, even if it did start sounding like the rock was about to collapse as it neared completion. Remember you can jump, so it’s not always necessary to completely bridge chasms.

Collecting shapes allows you to construct more complex objects, not all of which need be static – wheels can be pushed and rolled, for example. Existing objects, such as trees can, if “busted” correctly, can be made to fall and form stepping-stones. You can also create shapes of your own using a kind of “workbench” (for want of a better word), one (or more, I presume) of which can be found in-world for those who look.

Create your own shapes using this workbench-like tool

Not everything is in plain sight, either, so be prepared to look up and down, and to break through walls.

There is probably far more to Patterns than this, with things I’ve likely missed in this first look; but for now, this will hopefully give a general look and feel for the product.

Initial Thoughts

Patterns is hard to quantify – again, something it shares in common with Second Life. It’s clearly not a game in the traditional sense.  It is also a curious mix of the frustrating, the repetitive and the strangely addictive. My first 25 minutes didn’t go well at all; the camera positioning came close to driving me bonkers, and adjusting mouse sensitivity didn’t seem to help, either the camera would whip around in response to mouse movements, or it would crawl painfully slowly; even with very incremental adjustments to a slider, mouse/camera movement seemed to leap from one to the other. When trying to build, this became especially annoying, as even with the TAB option to swap between camera positions, I seemed to be spending a lot more time just trying to get to a position where I could actually do what I wanted, rather than actually build. This became especially tiresome when trying to bridge chasms or build complex stairways to reach between platforms, rather then building free-form.

That said, I admit to actually getting drawn-in to Patterns; whether this was 50% fascination / curiosity and 50% bloody mindedness (“I’ve started, so I’ll finish”), I’ve no real idea, All I do know is that when I saw a “starene” shape in the distance, I wanted to find out what it would give me shape-wise, and once I’d discovered the secret inside one structure, I was anxious to find out if others had anything hidden within. I also found that exploration aside, I did start experimenting with putting triangles together to make a wheel and then trying to combine triangles and cubes to make “organic” shapes and mimic the trees around me.

I also had a bit of fun simply being destructive, building and wrecking things, partly because I was curious as to when / how the physics engine would sit up and notice I was doing something Newton would demand it took action against, partly because it was actually fun. Three-o’clock-in-the morning-God-why-aren’t-I-in-bed fun, I’ll grant you, but fun.

But all that said, right now, Patterns is a lonely affair. You play on your own and there is no  interaction. From the promotional blurb, it appears users will be able to “share” their creativity via Twitter, You Tube and Facebook, and Genesis Release users will be able to contribute directly to the development of Patterns in some way. Even so, it feels as if Patterns is already lacking something.

Part of the joy in “shared creativity” is showing-off what you’ve done to friends, and having them respond with, “Wow! But what if you / we did this…”, and then trying things together, sharing in the immediate feedback of the creative process. Patterns doesn’t have any of this. Whether such an  ability is on the cards for future iterations, I’ve no idea; maybe there will be some form of server-based version in the future; although I think I’ll be surprised were that to prove to be the case. For now however, and allowing for the fact my familiarity with the share creative capabilities of SL may well be biasing my opinion, the Patterns universe already feels a slightly empty place, and in need of something more.

Looks-wise, it again falls into the curate’s egg category. It has very smooth graphics, and in-world views look reasonably good, with sunshine, shadows, and the like; even the Lego-ish clouds don’t really seem out-of-place. However, the main menu, options screen and help screen are unlikely to win fans. I’m not really a player of games, but even to me they look like something pulled out of the late 1990s and dropped into Patterns, fostering a complete “Bleah!” reaction.

Patterns options. Not entirely pleasing to the eye.

Of course, the $64,000 question is – will Patterns be any kind of commercial success? Right now, that is impossible to answer; not so much because it has only just been launched, but because a lot depends on how well it develops between now and the formal launch in 2013. Part of me does feel that the Genesis Release has perhaps suffered the Humble effect and has been pushed out a little prematurely (rather like some recent SL releases of late); it’s as easy to become bored with it as it is to get drawn in – and boredom isn’t a good thing to instill among users. Hopefully the promised rapid iteration cycle will discourage the former and encourage the latter.

Even so, I’m not ready to pass judgement just yet, one way or the other. Patterns is going to need a little time, and I feel it is only fair that judgement is withheld until we’ve had the chance to see a few iterations and found out how we, as Genesis users, get to have input to enhancing it. I will say that after playing with it for a good couple of hours last night and again using it this morning (so much for the housework!), have left me feeling somewhat ambivalent towards it at this point in time.

Articles on Patterns in this blog

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10 thoughts on “Making Patterns

    1. Inara Pey Post author

      I admit, a Tweet I sent after initially wrestling with the game wasn’t flattering – but part of it was my fault as a Second Life regular, and instinctively trying to do things as I would in Second Life when it came to moving and camera positioning. Just try and follow the hints I’ve given, and avoid falling off things. Building isn’t always easy (straightforward, yes, but not easy), and best to start by just getting some shapes and then putting them together free-form, rather than (as I did from the initial get-go), tray to build a ramp / stairway…

      Reply
  1. Caliburn Susanto

    I saw your post earlier but hadn’t installed Patterns yet and wanted to try it before replying. I like it! Not in any hurry to start building but only curious at first what was available and how the avatar moved around I took it slow and set about dismantling the entire floating island where the game starts. Even took all the dirt prims (well most). Not sure if they should be called prims, but that’s what we’re used to so I’m sticking with it.

    Before logging in and getting started I had a look at your video and the videos linked to from Daniel Voyager’s blog ( http://danielvoyager.wordpress.com/2012/10/05/new-first-look-videos-of-patterns/ ) so had a good idea of how to begin. The trickiest part was trying to UNlearn the camera movement that is so ingrained in my brain and fingers from years of SL, but once you get the idea to use the left hand for the movement keys (WASD) and the mouse to change the direction and angle of view (having a rollerball mouse helps, I think) and especially getting used to the fact that the avatar CANNOT turn around (only move forward, backward, or sideways, but always facing away from you) you can jog around fairly quickly with good control. I even was practicing pushing un-takeable prims off the side of the cliff without tumbling over the edge myself.

    The most tedious part up front will be standing at the shape making tool and laboriously creating various shapes for later building. In fact, after about 45 minutes of that I was tired of it and done for the time being.

    Interesting that you have to destroy the world in order to have the necessary raw materials for later building. Maybe they should call the characters specifically Shivas, not just Avatars. ;-)

    As for the solitary nature of it at this point … I think it most likely that the future plans are to be able to link up to a multiplayer space to share builds and form cooperative building teams. For an additional fee, no doubt. And who knows, perhaps even port builds into Second Life if SL is also being run through Steam (something I’m not interested in, personally).

    I’m tempted to shoot a “how to” machinima but I’m sure we will be inundated with those in short order so I’ll just content myself with some occassional pictures on Flickr. At any rate, it’s a nice break from endless SL Inventory organizing. (hahah)

    Reply
    1. Inara Pey Post author

      SL caught me out with Patterns as well, as commented. I tried pushing an item over to break it, but failed – had more success rolling wheels around :). Walk / run (CTRL & SHIFT) didn’t seem to change my speed of motion at all.

      The Workbench got me at first, but once I’d grasped the methodology, putting shapes together was pretty rapid – although it doesn’t seem to like you trying to be too clever, and geometry is restricted (or I’m missing something). Still unclear as to whether you can add any properties to shapes you make.

      I’d like to think there will be (dare I say) a Minecraft-like multiplayer mode at some point, but I’m currently not holding my breath on that. I’d spotted the potential for some form of SL “hook” in a previous article, although admittedly I saw it more in terms of getting people to try SL on the basis of the creative elements, etc., particularly as it appears we’ll be getting customisable avatars, pets, procedural capabilities at some point.

      It will be interesting – it just needs the “rapid iteration” Rod talks about in the promo video, or there is a risk people will get bored with this initial release very quickly.

      Reply
  2. Trinity Dejavu (@TrinityDejavu)

    Seems to be little more that a proof of concept at the moment. I’ve run though the ‘demo’ and seem to have run out of things to do and places to explore, the world doesn’t seem awfully large. Couldn’t get the work bench to do anything .. maybe it doesn’t .. maybe not having to guess would be nice.

    It needs a goal. Smashy makey isn’t a goal. See Terraria, lots of goals and stuff to do .. and all the blocky makey buildy you could ever want .. better than Minecraft in many ways too. Biomes?

    Screen resolutions .. only 3 ? How about a sound track .. and the rest of the product .. and and and and and and and and …

    Well ok, maybe I’m not being fair, it’s interesting and LL have my attention with this, just as long as they don’t make me rebuy the game when it’s finally released.

    Reply
    1. Inara Pey Post author

      The workbench does work – it just takes patience and a few rude words. I took my lead from the promo video – which is hardly the best way to understand something, I agree.

      All of the settings options left me bemused, as they seem minimal, to say the least – and I was surprised at the fixed resolutions.

      The proof of concept thing bugs me – hence the comment on it felling like it succumbed to the Humble approach of “just push it out the door” (to paraphrase). Just having a couple of additional little options at this point wouldn’t have hurt – but I guess we’ll have to see what comes.

      As to updates – the pre-order details are careful to specify Genesis (Founder?) users only get free updates until version 1.0 is officially launched. It’ll be interesting to see what it looks like by then.

      Reply
      1. Trinity Dejavu (@TrinityDejavu)

        1. DRAG AND DROP
        2. MAKE ONLY THE SHAPE IN THE BOTTOM RIGHT OF SCREEN
        3. MAKE IT AGAIN BECAUSE IT DIDN’T LIKE YOU

        Forgive the capslock, but oh my god Linden Lab. So not obvious. ok, so I have made everything, strip mined most else and strangely .. it doesn’t really scratch the itch. Maybe the world is to small, maybe it needs more flat spaces and less empty bottomless nothing.

        Maybe I need more than the tools to build something, a reason that forces me to build would be a good idea.

        Reply
        1. Inara Pey Post author

          Very much agreed on the last point. Simply building to see what happens, or to get from one platform / island to another isn’t enough. I’m sure that’s what they have coming; but part of me would have liked to see a little more to keep me engaged. I still have a few more places to explore and am still actually finding things I didn’t notice when exploring previously – but then, I’m pacing myself time-wise on Patterns (after my initial splurge). Hopefully the first of the “rapid iterations” will give us more to do…

          Reply
  3. Pingback: Webspace with avatars and inventory – Humble talks Dio and Versu | Living in the Modem World

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