Sunday, November 18, 2018

Pictures On My Wall: OWW

Occupy White Walls is open for business at last. It took a while. Demand so outran expectations the servers were "on fire" according to the Steam page. Not literally, I hope, although I did see that happen in an office where I worked, once.

Also open for business is my Gallery. I flung wide the doors (metaphorically - it doesn't actually have any doors yet) despite it currently looking disturbingly like the cloakroom facility in an upmarket hotel circa 1978. It's also hanging in a void but then they all do that.

It's a deeply inappropriate setting for the kind of artworks I seem compelled to purchase. The abstract expressionists don't look too out of place but the bleak scenes of rural ruin, the bright and blurry post-impressionists and the endless winter landscapes really need something warmer behind them than yards of shiny black marble.

It's a moot point at the moment, since I ran out of money after about ten minutes, having only managed to buy four artworks. For the record, they are

Silent Dawn  by Walter Launt Palmer (1919)
January: Cernay near Rambouillet  by Leon-Germain Pelouse (undated, mid-late 19c)
Rushing Brook  by John Singer Sargent (1904-1911)
Ghost Chamber with the Tall Door (New Version) by Paul Klee (1925)

All of those links go to the website of New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, whose archive is one of OWW's many sources. Copyright is always a contentious issue but according to Stanford University's guide on Copyright and Fair Use

"All works published in the United States before 1923 are in the public domain. Works published after 1922, but before 1978 are protected for 95 years from the date of publication. If the work was created, but not published, before 1978, the copyright lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years"
 I guess that means I'm safe to include one of the actual paintings. The Singer Sargent is the cheeriest.

I did once have a small brush with artistic copyright, when I was working in the marketing department of an insurance company back in the mid-80s. There was a period when the company I worked for was so out-of-touch with reality they let me write the copy and choose the artwork for advertisements in national magazines and I was so young and green that I chose to use a glorious Graham Sutherland painting (it might have been this one but he did a lot of vertiginous tunnels through trees) as the butt of some idiotic pun.

I've managed to wipe the details from my mind but I do remember how difficult it was to get the rights to use the image -and how expensive. Just as well the people I had to deal with didn't also want to know what the ad was about. That would have put the tin lid on it!

I noticed during my interactions with DAISY, the A.I. in charge of acquisitions, in OWW's alpha/beta that almost every picture I chose fell into a period bracketing roughly a century and a half, from the mid-19th to the late 20th. The sweet spot seemed to be around 1890 to 1930.

If for nothing else, I would recommend playing around with OWW to let DAISY illuminate your own latent aesthetic taste. You might not think you have strong preferences but she will show you that you do. And that they may not be what you expect.

On the basis of my short visit today, the current Free to Play version of Occupy White Walls has a lot more going for it than its indisputable educational value. The building aspect, as I've mentioned every time I've written about it, is every bit as compulsive as you could expect.

My main point of comparison is Landmark, compared with which OWW is very much easy mode. It's snap-together parts rather than making your bricks out of mud but that suits me very well. My issues with Landmark were never with knowing what to build; they were always with how to get the tools to behave. OWW's toolset has its eccentricities but it's orders of magnitude simpler than even the final, "simplified" version of the astonishingly abstruse controls the SOE team deemed appropriate for popular use.

In a n notable change fom alpha, the Early Release version of OWW makes a concerted effort to give the whole thing some credence as a "game". To that end there are now levels, which you get by adding to your stock of artworks. At Level 2 my character (or "Avatar" as the jargon of the game has it) needs to buy six more paintings to level up. Is that P2W? Who cares?

Gaining levels gives you access to different collections. Judging by what seems to be a reduced choice of building materials on offer I am guessing that applies to utilities as well as art. Either that or the design and construction aspect of the game has been neutered since alpha. That seems unlikely.

As well as leveling up you also now need to pay serious attention to earning money. In alpha I never came close to running out of cash but today I was down to my last $500 in minutes. You start with $10,000, which goes nowhere.

Fortunately there's an income stream you can access almost immediately. The tutorial explains that you need to open your Gallery to the public so they can come in and leave you tips. I would add "if they like what they see" but I'm not sure it matters. They were piling money on my desk before I even had the walls in, let alone any art for them to look at.

Players visiting other players' galleries, another thing the tutorial has you doing, is intended to be a big part of the game but to make money it's NPC visitors you need. They wander around, occasionally nodding sagely or clapping their hands, then they drop a few blue blocks on your desk and leave.

The blue blocks represent their donations. You pick them up, whereupon they turn into dollars in the bank. Your Gallery stays open for half an hour, after which you have to manually re-open it, so you can't just leave it open while you go to real-life work or sleep. Other players, however, can open it for you when they visit, which allows both for social networking and random acts of altruism.

As I said, so far I can't tell whether the amount of money donated relates to what you have on display but there's clearly room for some granularity there. I can imagine some involving gameplay relating to maximizing your income as well as some interesting moral conundrums over how far to compromise your artistic principles in favor of commercial success.

Most of OWW seems very well thought out and consistent but there's one design decision I can't fathom. When the imaginary visitors arrive and leave they fling paint all over your pristine walls.

It's part of a mechanic whereby each visitor teleports in, appearing as a multicolred globule, which then explodes. They do the same when they leave. It's dramatic, for sure, and visually arresting, but the connotations of visitors effectively vandalizing the installations make it seem ill-judged, to say the least.

That's just one minor flaw in a very promising project. For a free to play MMO in early access OWW has an enormous amount to offer. Looking forward I'd hope to see a great deal more customization for your avatar - clothes would be a start - as well the introduction of some of the plastic arts to the collections and more terrain options in the building files. It would be fantastic to have outdoor areas to landscape for a sculpture park, for example, or to be able to lay art trails through a forest.

And in the time it's taken me to write this post, my finances have recovered to the point where I have over $6,000 in the bank. Time to go spend my way to the next level.


  1. Hah! I only just tweeted about OWW few days ago! :D It looks absolutely interesting but am gonna wait before I seriously consider a purchase.

    I saw in their promo video on steam that one of the planned updates is going to include free art upload which is exciting to me (not sure how they handle the copyright issue then though?). these colored stains that players leave are incredibly annoying though, erm what the hellll. =P

    1. erm scratch purchase...its free obv. but gonna wait til some kind of full build ^^


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