When it comes to gifted Romance novelists, Nara Malone comes to mind. Nara lives on a small farm in the shadow of the Blue Ridge Mountains. When she's not writing, she loves to run, hike, bike, and kayak. Every story she tells incorporates her love of animals, nature, and adventure.
I first learned of Nara when I began to learn about opensim. Nara had a G+ community where she blogged about all the current events of the metaverse, sometimes tackling questions and positions that most of us did not know how to. New changes to opensim that we had not encountered before, Nara seemed to make sense of it all and sort through the elements helping to not only correct things but to help us to understand, thank you Nara.
I have also learned how gifted she is with scripting and NPC work and thought to interview her about how this all began and see if she can give us tips to help us achieve what she has.
For the many talented writers we have in opensim she has given us all a safe place where we can nourish our thoughts with creative suggestions all offered at her grid, with writing groups and events.
MM Nara thank you for taking the time to reflect and answer our questions. Please share with us your passion for writing, when did it begin? Besides romance what is important for you to convey?
NM All my romances convey a sense of love and respect for this planet and the creatures we share it with. My shapeshifter romances and some of the games I am working on deal with science and technology used to create hybrid animals and modified humans. Way back when I did my first virtual world interview with Virtual Christine, I think very few folks realized hybrid animals were created in research laboratories. Hybrid animals include those that are a mix of nonhuman species and some that are a mix of human and nonhuman.
I think very few people realize that research is moving toward a day when we could bioprint a human. We can already bioprint tissue, organs, even a sort of min brain. So, my shapeshifter romances were a way for me to present these beings that are a mix of species as characters with longings and goals and intelligence and a capacity to fall in love. I don’t know if that will make a difference to the level of misery currently heaped on these hybrid creatures. But I think it needs to be something people are aware of and have conversations about. And as we move toward the day when we can bioprint a human, we must have those conversations about what we define as human and how we will treat those we define as human. Bioprinted characters are part of a current work in progress for a video game.
MM I love the groups you have for writing, please tell us what you have planned for future?
NM I am rebuilding our grid on the newest version of Opensim and working with the core Nook group of writers on a stories and game projects. We’re also exploring ways to make ourselves less dependent on the platforms like Amazon or Facebook to allow us more direct and meaningful interactions with readers both at our websites and virtually. We hope very soon to be able to invite authors to join us in a web-based Nook office and also in the Opensim world to do the story building we all love.
MM I first read your posts at G+ I loved how you helped the community with current events of the day. Thank you. If you could change anything about opensim what would that be?
NM I would love to reduce the high bar of entry for new users to Opensim and to virtual worlds in general. Our Nook team is always looking for ways to progress toward that goal.
MM How did you discover NPC creation?
NM That’s kind of a Jack-in-the Beanstalk story. I was just learning to hop around the hypergrid and landed in Arcadia. Aaack Aardvark happened to be home that day and given that I was surfing via a 3-g cell phone connection tethered to a Linux laptop running Snowglobe viewer, I was lagging badly and bouncing around his region like a jumping bean. He asked if I was okay, and I mentioned I was hopping about in search of NPC and hadn’t found any. I wanted to see how they worked.
Lucky me, he had a workshop where he experimented with them and a folder of scripts, he gave me to play with. He took some time to show me how to use them. It was like giving Jack the magic beans. I took those scripts home with me and got lost in them. I eventually rezzed my first NPC from a magic genie bottle and had it linked up to an A.L.I.C.E. AI so I could converse with him.
When I first launched the Nara’s Nook grid, I set that genie up as Rob the dancebot that can chat with you while you dance, and he was somewhat unique at the time. Since then, the Nook grid has been all about using virtual worlds and NPCs in storytelling.
MM I have visited your grid to learn more about NPC creation, thank you for setting it up for those of us just starting out. What do you have planned for NPC creation currently?
NM We’ve done a lot of projects with NPC Hypergrid Stories I involved stories told with scenes and NPC around the hypergrid. Hypergrid Stories II was a region of interactive stories and games focused on unique ways to use NPC with tutorials and tools for making stories like ours boxed in each scene. That project is still in place on region Pandora at Nara’s Nook. Immersive Edge was our most ambitious and exhausting project involving the best creators, artists, and coders from around the hypergrid telling a story about avatar identity. A few months after that project finished up my husband passed away suddenly, and I have taken a bit of time to get my feet back under me as a storyteller and a game developer. I did the hermit thing and puttered and experimented and wasn’t up for much social interaction. When 2020 rolled around the Nook team reconvened and set our goal on making the next big storytelling adventure something readers could explore by interacting with characters in a web browser.
MM Do you code? What scripts have you written?
NM I have taken and passed college courses in C and C++. I am self-taught via web tutorials in Python and my explorations into AI have allowed me to learn about A.I.M.L which powered the A.L.I.C.E chatbots and newer tools like GPT-3 and GPT-Neo. Follow me on Twitter, MeWe, Pinterest, or at my author blog to see art I created with AI in Google Colab, or Conversations I have with GPT-based AI Bots, or practical uses and resources related to AI tools.
MM What are your thoughts about animesh?
NM I’ve experimented with it some and wrote some scripts to run it as I was really curious about how it may be useful. If you watch the amount a script time each of these objects use in your regions you see that very many of them can really bog you down, so in a region I still think NPCs are the way to animate mesh. But if you need something that can be moved between regions or that can be used in places you can’t use NPC, then Animesh is useful. You can do anything Animesh does by turning mesh into an NPC. An NPC uses ¼ the resources a player avatar does. The only thing you can’t do with NPC is take it out of a region to another.
MM What has been your biggest hurdle in opensim?
NM Learning to run my own server was my biggest challenge. I am always experimenting and pushing the envelope and I really had to be able to reset things when I screwed up or look in the console to see where bottlenecks and hang-ups were.
I feel like learning to manage the server has really helped me understand how what we create and how we use it impacts visitor experience.
MM Please tell us about your grid. What do you offer?
NM We’re a storyteller’s grid. Some folks tell a story with visual art, or video, or music, or a video game, and many tell stories with art and poetry. We have always pushed the envelope as far as using NPC. You can find our boxed Fun with NPC tutorials in region Pandora and links there to all the accompanying videos Fuchsia Nightfire recorded of me working with creators around the hypergrid to demonstrate each lesson.
MM What theme is the grid’s regions?
NM We’re not a residential grid. Our members are authors, musicians, coders, etc who need space and community to explore immersive storytelling. Our regions are either resources related to that or scenes from stories creators are working on. We almost always have some group project, like the current Storyteller’s Castle and Nook Offices for the web. To make things more manageable I have turned off automatic signups for the grid. You must contact me to create an account for you. I’ll be rolling out ways for members to join us and participate in our activities via a Patreon page this fall.
MM In your storytelling do you create the stories virtually too? What about the images captured in opensim, do these inspire your work?
NM I like to build my story characters first. Then as I plot the scenes, I build those and sit inside the world to let the story unfold in my mind. Sometimes I will chat with the story character and that will give me new ideas on where the story should go. When I wrote the Selkie’s Tale Fred Beckhusen was fascinated by the mythology as he’d never heard of selkies. He made a selkie shapeshifting avatar. I was able to wear that and get a sense of what it might be like to be Ronin, a powerful and narcissistic man, reduced to crawling around on his belly as an animal. The Goddess Mere’s curse sentenced him to life at sea but for one night every 7 years when he could shed his seal skin and become human again. Just long enough to reignite the longing for all that he can’t have, and then back to crawling on your his for another seven years. The sentence is eternal unless he can find a woman who can resist a man who is magically enchanted to be irresistible. Even I didn’t know how I was going to deliver a happy ending for that story. Seeing the world through a virtual seal’s eyes helped me tell a better story.
I use images from opensim as a tool to share what I am working on or writing about. Sometimes Opensim images inspire my blog posts.
MM What do you love most about Fred Beckhusen’s DreamGrid app?
NM I should clarify that Nara’s Nook Grid runs on Linux server I rent in a professional data center. Given my poor internet out here in the wilds of rural America, I could not deliver a decent user experience on personal computer. I use DreamGrid without hypergrid enabled as a teaching tool to inspire a love of and familiarity with technology for students I tutor.
DreamGrid is an excellent tool for individuals to learn how to manage opensim regions and grids. I cut my admin teeth on Sim-On-A-Stick. DreamGrid is so much more powerful and beginner friendly.
MM What tips can you give those just starting out in opensim?
NM Find a community with interests like yours and be patient with yourself. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or ask for help. Don’t be intimidated by the technology. We’re Metaverse pioneers here and there’s nothing we can’t figure out together.
MM Please include your links where we can find your work.
NM My Blog https://www.naramalone.com
Mari entered OpenSim in 2015 as a resident of a grid in Canada, called to manage their magazine as an Editor, thereby meeting her future partner Reyn Softly.
Fred Beckhusen's DreamGrid