12 January 2011

It's easy to design a mall, right?

Well, maybe. It's certainly easy to design one poorly, but not so easy to do well.

One place I have a store is redoing their mall. The new one is where the sim landing point will be set, and the users will, hopefully, shop a bit before heading into the sim; the sim owner is also hoping this will reduce lag in the main sim. Okkay, fine. I can deal with that.

Unfortunately, I was asleep for the opening land rush (which happened overnight US time), and wound up with a less desirable location than the one I currently occupy, right where the teleporter drops a new arrival into the current mall. This wouldn't be quite so bad except that the design of the new mall makes only a few spaces desirable, and leaves the rest with significant handicaps.

When I open up a store, I look for one where my products can easily be seen from where a new arrival comes in. The idea is to grab their attention right off the bat. There are usually several places in a mall that qualify, and I try hard to grab one. This particular mall seemed designed to minimize those spaces, however. Here's the basic design unit of the mall:

That's me standing on the landing point, using the standard camera view from behind. It's an island pod in four quadrants, with spaces around the outside wall. Four of these units are arranged in a square. Because of the layout, though, only the one island space is clearly visible, and all of the outside spaces are at least partially obscured. There are four spaces visible straight down the lanes between the islands. One of those, however, is where the wall will be removed when the mall is expanded at some point in the future, leaving only three, plus the four inward-facing island spaces, as desirable locations. Those were, of course, all gone by the time I got there.

From this picture, it looks like there's not as much of a problem for folks not in the 7 prime locations. That's because I derendered all of the vendors visible in this picture. The reality is much worse, because no limits were initially imposed on the folks inhabiting the islands. This one isn't too bad:

(All I did was move the camera around; I didn't move myself at all.) That vendor, at least, showed some restraint. (So to speak.) The real horror is this one:

That vendor essentially blocked out one entire corner of the mall, and management let them. When I complained, the manager told me she'd impose a 5-meter height limit on shops in the islands, and a 15-meter height limit on the ones along the wall. This misses the point, to me, though. Even that kind of height limit doesn't preserve the sight lines from a user just popping in to the shops behind the islands.

I wound up here, to the left of Chorazin Creations:

The two vendors in the island in front of my shop had kept to the low height of the walls, and my sign, at least, was visible over them. I'm not entirely happy with this location, but I don't think I'm going to be able to do better. I'm stuck in that mall for a while longer, since I'd (rather stupidly, it appears) prepaid my rent at the old mall for quite a while in advance.

I'm not a designer. I leave that to my good RL and SL friend Axi Kurmin (of, among other businesses, Urban Forge Virtuatecture). But if I can see problems with this design, I'm sure she can outline many more.


  1. Coming late to the party, my friend, but here's my professional perspective:

    Not every space in a mall situation (RL or SL) are created equal. However, the trick is to try to achieve some kind of balance. What you might lose with one location, you try to give something back so it's not a total loss. Landing points, sight lines, all important. However just like in RL malls, what's also important is a map or guide at the landing point to familiarize people with what is available and where they might find it, otherwise they look at what's ever in sight and then leave.

    The low wall height for the islands should be a no brainer, and should also be strictly enforced due to the issue you illustrate here. However what's equally important is to encourage walkability, which I don't see in these shots. Yes, you can walk it, and get everywhere, but there seems little reason to do so, and that's my problem with SL malls in general. That there's nothing of interest beyond one shop after another; nothing that makes the location worth exploring, leading you to further discovery. It's something that bothers me enough so that whenever I've been asked to design a sim I do the exact opposite of this, as you well know.

  2. As someone who frequents the mall in these pictures, and hangs around in the other areas of the sim often, I completely identify with your complaints.

    On the plus side, the new mall is still something of a trial (difficulty was - as I'm sure you can tell - making spaces visible while also plentiful), and as I've been reading you also appreciate that progress is iterative. I'll ensure that your comments make it through to those involved, and hopefully things can be improved further still.

    Thankyou. =]