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vCity 1.0
by Dr. Adam L. Gruen

20 days in the life of a 21st century virtual city simulation.

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vCity 1.0
Chapter 6

"If some public pleasure is concerned, an association is formed to give more splendor and regularity to the entertainment."

--Alexis de Tocqueville--


After spending the better part of the day reading the editorials in nowlinks, I conclude several things. First of all, people seem more focused on the upcoming Lightspeed tournament than on mundane issues of such things as a sustainable future for civilization.

Secondly, not that many people have seen the Exon Inspiration site yet, despite the fact that it has been in the vCity for nearly three weeks. An unfortunate side effect of calling a referendum is that people will flock to a site, causing either a server crash or enormous profit for the owner -- unpredictably one or the other, but rarely both. A referendum of this kind must be counted no more than and no less than 20 days after it is issued. In that time, a fortune could be made.

Thirdly, from what limited discourse has arisen, I see that I am in luck. Most advocates of the site (and, therefore, opponents of any ban) are harping upon this as a freedom of expression issue. And I intend to disarm them by agreeing with them.

So, with that in mind, I find the Plasteel Canyon RAThole in order to go to the Sports & Entertainment Complex to see what all the Lightspeed fuss is about. I could just beam over to the S&E, of course. But what fun would that be?

Ever since I was a kid, I have had a secret love affair with model trains, and the one we ultimately designed for the vCity beats them all. The vCity sports a state-of-the-art interconnected light rail and rapid area transit system. It's a shame so few people bother to use it instead of impatiently bookmarking. Maybe that's because we never moved it out of PC-based scrolling mode, and the new rage is HMD and MSE.

Truthfully the mass transit system is one of the few quasi-socialist techsimms our corporation installed. We had a lot of arguments about this technology, and in the end, neither we nor the transit consultants could figure out how to guarantee universal access via the free marketplace and yet retain system safety and efficiency.

We decided that the techsimm transit system would probably be managed by public corporations with long-term contracts with local government, which basically would charge low fixed fees in exchange for the right to keep a ceiling on fares and, therefore, profits. Passengers would purchase ticket/tokens at automated kiosks at the stations; the price of the ticket/token depending on the distance between departure and destination points. Free passes would be issued to all tourists and anyone who claimed to be unable to afford to purchase fare. To encourage people not to freeload on the system (there is no enforcement), ticket/tokens would serve as lottery tickets, and winners would receive all sorts of free trips and prizes. Those who could not afford to purchase ticket/tokens would donate labor towards system maintenance to enter the transit lottery.

The light rail system was scheduled to operate 05:00 to 24:00 VCT for the convenience of commuters to and from the regional suburbs. It would seamlessly connect to the Rapid Area Transit (R.A.T.) system which would operate continuously for the convenience of the denizens of the vCity downtown proper and the more densely populated suburbs. The R.A.T. featured both above- and below-ground stations. The two systems, although connected at eight transfer (T) points by inclement-weatherproof walkway/tunnels and reporting to the same city-wide transportation coordination center, would operate functionally independent of each other. This was because we conceived that the R.A.T. would be highly automated and technology-intensive; the rules and training that applied to its construction, safe operation, maintenance and repair would be more complex and would probably not be appropriate for the simpler light rail system. For example, R.A.T. maintenance personnel and robots would have to work in packet shifts; whereas light rail crews could work uninterrupted between the hours of 00:01 and 04:59 VCT.

We figured there would be a friendly rivalry between the personnel of the two systems. R.A.T. people would be highly paid, well-trained professionals, mostly managers and software engineers, drawn from the ranks of the light rail corps or "junior varsity." Light rail people would tend to be younger, more laid back, and look upon the R.A.T. either with bemusement or as a possible "career-advancement thing."

The light rail system was designed to alleviate traffic congestion from low and mid-density areas to each other; there would be a basic "beltway" shape, plus a few spokes. Intracity commuters therefore would not have to go through the downtown of the vCity to get where they wanted to go. The typical train for off-peak hours is a two-car affair, but some trains would offer 3-6 cars depending upon schedule and city-wide transportation system traffic flow reports.

The cars are manufactured by the EEB Corporation (a simmcorp) which owns both its manufacturing plants and headquarters in the vCity. EEB Kleinwagen cars seat 64 and have a total capacity of 80. They are designed for the convenience of commuters, and boast a number of features including complete access and special equipment for the physically challenged, wide and comfortable seats with adjustable cushioning, shift-polarity windows (the kind that can be lightened or darkened electrochemically at a push of a button), personal audio/video displays with ISDN input/output jacks, spacious luggage racks, bicycle racks, washroom/shower/change facilities, and food and beverage dispensing machines. The cars are powered by electric third rail and are equipped with twin drive engines capable of a maximum speed of approximately 90 kph. In the event of total network power outage, emergency LiH batteries supply enough power to move a car to the next rail station. Each car is autodirectional and has two cabs which seat a maximum crew of two.

Light rail stations, we decided, would have a pleasing, ranch-style look and architecture. They would be designed for the convenience of the commuter and feature ample parking and luxurious climate-controlled waiting areas. Some of the fancier ones would also have concession stands, vKiosks, cafes, that kind of thing.

The R.A.T. on the other hand was designed to do one thing and do it well: move large masses of people continuously from one high-density area to another and to places where traffic flow is the highest. Our studies showed that the R.A.T. would be expensive to maintain and upgrade, but cheaper than dealing with the environmental and social disaster that would result from not having one.

There are three R.A.T "lines" with two intrasystem transfer points at Confluencia and City Centre. The River or "R" line stretches from West Affordable to South Dawn Row. The Airport or "A" line stretches from the vCity Regional Airport to River Heights. And the Bay or "B" line runs from City Centre to the Seaport Complex. The typical train for off-peak hours holds four cars; during rush hours and when traffic conditions warrant, trains are boosted to 6-8 cars.

R.A.T. cars are marvels of conceptual technology, designed and manufactured by the USNIWA Corporation (a simmcorp) with both manufacturing plants and headquarters in the vCity. USNIWA Wa cars have a total capacity of 220 people mostly because they don't have too many seats. They are designed for the convenience of the system and not necessarily for the user. Limited access for the physically challenged, for example. However, wherever possible, they have a few nice touches, including: "intelligent" passenger safety systems that prevent door accidents; wireless comm augmentation links for uninterrupted telecomm service while passing through tunnels and underground; directional video displays (for advertising & infotainment); superb climate and air quality controls (including scent manipulation); and liquid-gel stabilization compartments for smooth rides. Wa cars are built to last and are designed for robotic maintenance. They are powered by electric third rail and are equipped with twin drive engines capable of a maximum safe speed of 85 kph. Emergency LiH batteries can supply enough power to move the train to the next station in the event of a network power outage. Each car is autodirectional and has an invisible "nolo cab," where the "crewperson" actually sits in a room in R.A.T Centre and runs the train televisually.

R.A.T. stations are designed for both passenger convenience and safety, as well as crowd control. There are no "packers" to stuff people into a car because the train platforms are separated from the waiting areas. Multiple gates "count" the correct number of people and act as membranes between the two areas. Therefore, while some crowding can occur before the gates, none occurs afterwards.

Well, almost none. The system isn't perfect because it involves human beings -- for some reason, people, even in PC-based mode, have a tendency to want to go to specific cars, usually at either end of the platform. This accounts for the occasionally tiresome delays as pleasant artificial voices remind weary human beings that "space is available in other cars on the train."

Of course, all of this is utopian simm. No money actually is transmitted, and in a VR world, the network itself is the mass transit system.

So what did all of our fine efforts get us? The vCitizenry urinated upon the concept from a great altitude. They mocked the Light Rail as "rail lite" ("same great service as heavy rail, but only a third of the cost"). And they nicknamed the R.A.T. underground platforms "ratholes."

Oh well. We have a saying in the vCity business: "you can't make people simm." It's hard to gauge the efficacy of a transportation concept in a virtual world where people can beam anywhere they like, anytime, with zero risk of death or injury to themselves (except the occasional lapse into MSE-induced barfogenia).

I still like using the RAT, though, and so do some others. According to our stats, it's still popular among Belgian, Dutch, German, Japanese, Korean, Singaporean, and Taiwanese vCitizens, all genders, ages 35+. And we have an unshakable core of support from railroad enthusiasts worldwide -- enough to sell advertising to that community. So the mass transit system techsimm rattles onwards, stuck forever in its soon-to-be-obsolete PC-based mode.


When the train comes to a stop, a semi-random number of passenger scapps exit through the train doors to the above-ground platform on the right hand side. Scrolling out the doors, one sees a wonderful panorama unfold: the S&E Complex, kilometer after kilometer of verdant open tracts of golf courses, buildings of all kinds, stadiums, tracks, structures, lakes, climbing cliffs, parks, etcetera. Here the sun always shines at high noon in a brilliant blue sky. Cumulus cloud scapps roll ponderously by at an altitude of 5000 meters or so. The occasional airplane or dirigible scapp drifts into and out of view.

The S&E Complex, or just "S and E" as it is called by both the beer-swilling masses from Dawn Row and the champagne-sipping elite from Houghty, is a sports and entertainment village the likes of which has never been seen. Owned and operated by a consortium of private vendors called the Good Luck Cartel (GLC), the S & E features arenas and facilities for almost every kind of sport and entertainment known. And many that did not formerly exist.

The one exception being professional wrestling. Very early on in the life of the vCity, when I was still feeling my vOats, I banned the site as "stupefying" after witnessing a demonstration match. It seemed patently inferior to the Sumo wrestling site. This blatant attempt at imposing my worldview upon the vCity was my first and only mistake; it caused a tsunami of e-mail, and I relented. Thereafter, we always used the referendum process. I learned my lesson. I learned that only God could remove professional wrestling from civilization. Anyway, what was funny about that site, in retrospect, was that many people agreed with me, and in the end, the site collapsed from neglect. And in the five years since then, no one has tried to open a new one.

The GLC is a special kind of simmcorp, since it represents both real world corporations "fronting" in the vCity, as well as real world vendors selling and testing ideas by masquerading as vCity corporations. There is plenty of volume open to development of new facilities; the cartel is open to all comers. If it were a real world venture, in return for rent-free use of city real estate, the GLC would donate a fixed percentage of all profits to local general revenue funds. As it is, our corporation just lets the GLC run itself and hang out for free. All we ask is that they be nice.

We knew from the start that the S&E would be used as a testing device for real world analogs, and we were not disappointed. The whole idea of the vCity as a marketing tool was, after all, to serve as a testbed for concepts too expensive and risky to test market in the real world.

One obvious example was the Planetary American Football Association. PAFA is a simmcorp that serves as a front for a real world American Football cartel (Registry protected). The real world corporation behind PAFA approached our corporation with the idea of setting up a virtual league with virtual players and virtual schedules. Naturally they also needed a virtual stadium. This one contract netted us $500K in real money, which back in 1997 was a lot of dough.

The vCity Stadium Number One is luxurious by any standard. This cutting edge, beyond-state-of the-art facility seats 80,570 tushies. "Intelligent" climate control and soil drainage. Robotic maintenance. Fully retractable "skydome" for year-round use. Natural grass. Liquidgel-stabilization foundation dampens harmonic vibrations and prevents damage from earthquakes. Retractable sound dampeners. 362 luxury suites ("skyboxes") rented throughout the year on a highest-bidder basis. No bad seats or obstructed views in the place. 42 remote-control-operated cameras. Press area contains satellite uplink. All seats provide adjustable cushioning, cup/bottle holder, audio/video and ISDN input/output jacks, and plenty of leg room. High-definition, large and split-screen monitors everywhere. More bathrooms per person than any other stadium ever designed. Excellent food, beverage, and concession services at very reasonable prices. Internal shopping mall, hotel, and gardens. Excellent access for physically challenged. Special cybernetic augmentation services available for visual/hearing impaired. Infant and child care centers available. Free parking.

Utopian? Of course, that was the point. The idea was to try and find out what people thought would be essential, nice-to-have, or goofy. Because no sports cartel, construction developer, city, or bank in its right mind would ever build this thing without doing a market analysis through the wazoo, and even then they'd be leveraged up to their eyeballs for six generations. With that kind of risk, they'd need some kind of assurance, and that was what the vCity S&E was designed to give them.

A very odd thing happened with PAFA, though. It turned out that people were more interested in watching the activities of the virtual league then in answering marketing surveys. PAFA got the information the real world cartel wanted, but it also discovered that vCitizens were flocking to the virtual games by the millions. The simulation, as it turned out, was more interesting, fast-paced, affordable and accessible than the real sport itself. It began to generate income. Real world owners were delighted, since they did not have to deal with player unions. We got a very nasty letter from the real world players unions, however. Their letter was nothing compared to the vitriolic missives we were getting from the banks that owned real world stadiums and the television networks that were broadcasting real world games. They were petrified that vSports would cut into viewer share and stadium attendance. This was all settled out of court two years ago. I'm not at liberty to disclose the terms of the agreement. Bottom line? Plenty of pie for everyone.

When other sports corporations saw what was going on, they also clamored for the "right" to develop simms at the S & E. We cut deals with them all. I can't go into the details of those contracts either, except to say that the annual revenue we receive in total from them alone is about sixty times the cost of running the vCity.

The Planetary Baseball League (a simmcorp fronting for a Registry Protected real world cartel) paid for the design of vCity Ballpark Number One. It is also luxurious by any standard featuring identical services to those mentioned previously, except the baseball stadium seats only 48,430, has fewer luxury suites and parking spaces, and has no internal hotel. Exterior design resembles "turn-of-the-century" architecture similar to Fenway Park. Box seats very close to the field. Adjustable inner and outer fences and movable "brick and ivy" wall. Robot-hand-operated "old style" scoreboard at playing field level. "Virtual" laser-sight foul poles automatically determine fair/foul balls and home-runs; "virtual" laser-sight strike zone takes guesswork out of horizontal axis (home plate umpire still judges "high" or "low" pitches). All seats equipped with interactive audio/video displays so that fans may review replays and box scores, update statistics and scorecards, and register their electoral opinion as "official scorer" for hits versus errors, wild pitches versus passed balls, etc.

The PBL took their league one step further, and encouraged vCitizens to develop their own teams and leagues. It all became a weird blend of rotisserie baseball and real world television-based baseball. Sometimes when I pass by a real world storefront and see a baseball game on a screen, I honestly don't know what the hell I'm looking at. Is it real reality, or is it virtual reality? Does it make a difference? It's all business reality.

With the success of the PAFA and PBL, the floodgates opened. Now the S & E Complex has a Coliseum, vCity Ice Arena, vCity Water Arena, The Courts, The Lanes, vGolf Courses 1 through 12 (very popular with our Japanese vCitizenry), Woodhills Park (a vDisc Golf Course), a Rifle & Pistol Range, and Pineforest Park (a vKriegspiel arena, very popular with males of all ages). The vSports displayed include indoor football, soccer, lacrosse, jai-lai, ultimate disc, competitive cycling, ice hockey, other ice sports & entertainment, basketball, volleyball, racquetball, handball, wallyball, gymnastics, wrestling, sumo wrestling, boxing, martial arts, fencing, swordfighting, dancing, tennis, double disc court, racquet sports of all kinds, nine and ten pin bowling, archery, swimming, diving, and water polo.


The vCitizens had a tremendous argument over horse racing. There was nothing wrong with the horse track simulation built for the S&E by the Very Off-Track Betting Corporation (a simmcorp, real world Registry Protected). VOTB violated no zoning ordinances. There was not even anything wrong with telegambling, as far as our lawyers could tell, since it did not involve an exchange of real world money on servers located within the United States. The main objection came from animal rights activists, who objected to a horse racing simulation on the basis that the exploitation of animals for profit was neither a desirable nor sustainable future.

This was a toughy which the vPopuli had to hack out. Were not humans animals too? And if humans could not be exploited for profit, then the whole premise of capitalist democracy was fundamentally unsound. In the words of one of my erstwhile colleagues on the vCity Zoning Council, "Oy Gevalt."

In the end, we did hold a referendum, and the site was banned. On the Occams' Razor scale, this one was a close shave. The issue distilled down to this: humans have free will and reason, therefore within certain boundaries, they may exploit each other (slavery being on the shit list, however); because non-human animals do not have both free will and reason, human exploitation of non-human animals for profit should be forbidden, and therefore no animal racing, zoos, or circuses. The counter argument ran: how do you know that non-human animals do not have free will and reason?

There was also a side tangent that caused more controversy. Those who advocated animal rights were largely concerned with mammal rights, for obviously parochial reasons. They naturally raised the question of the viability and sustainability of such things as cattle ranching, rabbit farms, and mammal-based medical research for pharmaceuticals and cosmetics. But non-human animals covered a far greater territory including fish, birds, insects, arachnids, mollusks, amphibians, and eukaryotes.

In one case, there was a zoning volume in the beachfront and sanddune suburb of Unpretentious run by a guy who was showcasing the way to sell electricity generated from electric eels. There was nothing wrong with the VR design -- he was well within CC limits -- and I thought that the organic sustainability of the idea was rather clever. A referendum was called, nevertheless, on the basis that while generating electricity from eels might be an appropriate technology for us, it wasn't appropriate for the eels. If I remember correctly, the site was not banned after the owner promised to prove that the eels were happy, well-fed, and feeling no pain. How he intended to prove this was something of a mystery.

Anyway, we reached the nadir (or zenith, depending upon one's viewpoint) of the controversy when some people started advocating the rights of all life forms including plants. There was some question about florists and agribusiness, and whether they had the right to exploit and murder flowers and plants for their own capitalist interests. As the same colleague later said, "Oy Gevalt Squared." It was, indeed, very talmudic.

All of this reminded me of the joke of the furrier who sold mink coats on the basis that all of the minks involved committed suicide. Of course, to many people on the net, the sanctity of life is no joke. We haven't come to resolution on just how sanctified we wish to become in the future. I guess when we started the vCity we knew that social-political discussions like this were going to happen. Maybe that, also, was the point.

About Lightspeed, now.

Lightspeed is a game that did not, until recently, exist in the real world. It was invented to be a virtual reality sport by a sporting goods corporation (Registry Protected) which had started out as a footwear manufacturer. This shoe company -- er, excuse me, I mean "footwear" corporation -- expanded its line to include in-line rollerblades. It has now expanded to be a mammoth sporting goods franchising operation. Someone at high levels within this corporate behemoth decided that what they really needed to do, to stimulate sales of in-line rollerblades and associated protective equipment, was to create a new sport. They could then license everything associated with this sport: not just equipment, but the games, the stadiums, the leagues, broadcast rights, collectibles, T-shirts, etcetera.

It was a brilliant idea with one major problem. Risk. No one really knew whether an artificially created sport would catch on, and the penalty for failure would be massive losses. So they came to the vCity in the hopes of test marketing the idea of the game before committing to setting it up in the real world.

The game of Lightspeed borrows much from the game of Ultimate Disc and street hockey. Played on a smooth, hard surface with rectangular dimensions of approximately 40m x 80m, each team of five skaters and one goaltender attempts to pass a disc from one to another and maneuver it towards the opponent's goal (also called a "net"). Flicking the disc past the goaltender and into the goal counts as scoring a point. The first team to score 13 points wins the game; however, the winning team must win the game by at least 2 points. A game cannot end by a score of 13-12 or 14-13, etcetera.

The rules of the game are fundamentally simple. While a player is in possession of the disc, that player may not skate but may roll using momentum (both feet must be touching the pavement at all times). A player may attempt to pass the disc to a teammate at any time; if the disc touches the ground in the field of play for any reason, however, that is considered a "drop" or "turnover". One player from the opposing team takes possession of the disc at the point of turnover. A shot-on-goal results either in a score or, having been blocked or caught by the goaltender, a turnover to the goaltender.

There are many other minor rules such as defining illegal body contact, out-of-bounds, and throw-offs after a goal has been scored, but that, in a nutshell, is how to play Lightspeed.

In the virtual reality setting, this actually translates fairly well. Each player dons a HMD and MSE gloves and slippers. All twelve players "see" a virtual representation not just of the field, but on-line avatars of their teammates and opponents. The "disc" they pass back and forth is represented by a rotating disc of multi-colored light. The score is displayed for each player along with other additional information they may wish to know such as wind velocity, number of minutes opposing team players have been playing, completion percentages, goals scored, that kind of thing.

I tried the game once and found it to be exceedingly irritating. For one thing, I don't have the knack of "skating" down very well, at least not in a pair of VR slippers. This is not so bad while standing still -- one can always pass off to a teammate -- but it is extraordinarily annoying while "in motion". I discovered that I kept going out of bounds because, quite simply, I did not know how to stop. And it is very embarrassing to go sliding out of bounds and then hear, or read, helpful comments from internetworked teammates such as "Shithead!" or "Asshole!" Although there is a certain refreshing quality in listening to exotic curses in a foreign tongue.

Virtual Lightspeed has proven to be enormously popular. Almost immediately, enthusiasts formed a vLightspeed Association complete with schedules, hourly updated statistics, tournaments, and prizes. I find all of this very strange and perhaps a little depressing. Somehow in my mind, sport was always the last bastion of fellowship and camaraderie -- not to mention physical exercise. Now people can play on team sports and yet be utterly alone; they can belong to a team whose members they will never meet, unless they make an extra effort to do so. Is that a glimpse of the future?

Perhaps not. Once the sporting goods corporation discovered that it had a winner on its hands, it moved into full production and advertised the hell out of the new found sport of Lightspeed. I've seen the game played on parking lots and deserted streets everywhere in the real world, and people -- especially kids -- seem to like it. So perhaps I am just being an old fuddy-duddy, bemoaning as my forefathers did before me social innovations which I cannot understand and in which I do not wish to participate.

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