Romeo + Juliet versus the Gremlins: A few lessons learned

The gremlins where in full force Saturday night!
The gremlins where in full force Saturday night!

Well it wasn’t just the Montagues and Capulets feuding during last Saturday’s performance. With all the technical issues we faced, we might as well retitled the play “Romeo and Juliet Versus The Gremlins!” As Harvey put it after the show “everything that could have gone wrong, did.”

The full dress rehearsal a couple of hours before went even better than the opening night’s performance, so we were pretty confident going in! Apart from  one small incident with my legs not rezzing during the “Let’s get it on” scene and a missed text reader cue, it was pretty much flawless.

It’s worth noting too that we didn’t change a thing from the opening night. It was such smooth sailing two weeks ago, that we were hopelessly under-prepared for when the seas started getting awfully choppy.

We had a crowd of 25 in the audience – which was about as big as the first show – but this time things began to get really laggy as the show started. Group chat, which we use to communicate inside the production company, slows down at the best of times. Well, it pretty much stopped working entirely, which made communicating a major challenge.

While animations were looking a little slow to me during the first two scenes, we seemed to be muddling though. During “Come what may” (the 2nd scene where I – as Romeo – first meet and dance with Juliet), I noticed that I had to get extra close to the couples dance ball with my camera for it to respond. Clicking and camming in delayed the start of the dance which is timed to the second to begin at a certain lyric.

Then, I crashed as I was walking down the aisle during the “Fever” scene. Things just stopped cold and I was frozen mid-crouch.

After a relog, we restarted the scene and it went well. After sending Juliet back up to her balcony, I started my solo dance. One of the things we have to do if we crash, is we must run through our dances on our HUD so that we can cache them. This is necessary to avoid delays between the animations, which really doesn’t look good at all. Of course, in my rush from the relog, I didn’t cache my dances and I only realised this once the scene had started.

Lesson reminder: Always cache your dances after a relog, even if you’re in a hurry, the scene just has to wait.

The dance with Juliet went fine, but then I noticed my HUD wouldn’t respond to my clicking. I have about a 10 second buffer to start my solo, so after hitting the button several times to no effect, I had to reload the playlist, and start again. Again, the timing was about 3 seconds off, and again, not that noticeable.

Following that scene came “Let’s get it on”. This is the bedroom scene where I was missing my legs during dress rehearsal. Thankfully, I fully rezzed this time, but as soon as I hit my stage mark and turned my camera to click the couples dance ball, my screen just went a wonky shade of orange! And I mean, full neon-orange. I was literally blind, so clearly couldn’t continue the scene.

I relogged immediately, and had the presence of mind to log in at home, then try to get tp’ed back to the dressing room. Strangely, and I put this down to group chat again, no one would respond to my pleas to get teleported to the dressing room

Lesson 1: save an LM to the dressing room… duh!

Eventually, Harvey tp’ed there himself and teleported me in, which wasn’t ideal, but nevertheless necessary.

That scene turned out ok once we restarted it. I think at this point, I started realising that we had some major issues. I think Harvey came to the same realisation and started telling people to remove their scripts in local. While we do tell everyone to do so, I guess some people need a bit of reminding, so…

Lesson 2: While we recommend spectators remove unnecessary scripts, install a script meter and have an usher enforce a strict script limit.

Then came “Never gonna happen”. In this scene, I play Juliet as she’s getting propositioned by Paris. I start the scene at the top of the audience bleachers, and literally run onto the stage with Paris in full pursuit. This is risky at the best of times, but with lag…. watch out, because it can get out of control in a hurry. What made matters worse, was that there were spectators standing in the aisles. This is troublesome for two reasons: A) they get in the way of our path which blows our timing, and Paris inevitably ends up running into me, and B) standing avatars create much more lag than sitting avatars. So…

Lesson 3: While we ask avatars to stay seated, have an usher enforce this practice and make sure they sit in their seats.

The first fight scene, “Kung Fu Fighting”, between Mercutio, Tybalt and me went down like honey.  The second, “The Wild Boys” was a disaster on almost every level.

We all started noticing that the music stream was cutting in and out. Of course, not having group chat available, it was hard to tell whether this was just me not hearing it, or if it was parcel wide. Turns out, after IMing everyone individually, it was clear it was parcel wide.

Unfortunately, the realisation finally came after we had started the scene! Harvey’s connection was failing, and his stream was going with it. This, of course, is a show-stopper.

Lesson 4: Have a back-up plan for the music. It seems that with too much lag, the stream gets bumpy, and so it might make sense to have someone else have the playlist and be able to step in with it.

Things seemed to stabilise and the stream came back on. Of course, Paris was on stage already (and she is meant to enter from the church). So we had to restart the scene, again. At this point, I just wanted it to be over.

Lesson 5: Everyone needs to know exactly what to do if we have to restart a scene, we have to rehearse it and enact the procedure every time.

Miraculously, that seemed to be the end of our problems for the night. During the show I noticed pretty much every one in the company crash at least once, but if they’re not on when it happens, no one is the wiser. I crashed 4 times in total, and every time, I had to cache my dances.

Juliet’s solo scene, “Sleep Alone” had the same HUD delays I’d experienced during “Fever”, but the delays were only slightly noticeable. It was the same story for my last scene “Romeo and Juliet”, but by then I’d compensated and had pre-loaded everything about 10 seconds beforehand. To counter the delay, I had to manually override my preset HUD timings, which was no big deal, but added a little extra error. I don’t think anyone noticed apart from the company of players watching, so it was ok.

I’m pretty sure we all crumpled on the floor in the dressing room when we were done.

Everyone in the audience said they enjoyed it but I could feel the reception wasn’t the same. Sure, some people appreciate how difficult it is to do what we’re trying to do. And most people appreciate that Second Life can be an amazingly temperamental technical environment to do it in. Further, many people also say that the audience doesn’t notice mistakes as much as we do.

Still, when you crash and have to restart scenes, people notice. It blows the “trance-effect” that a good show should have – the feeling that you’re not watching a performance, but that you’re being transported into a story. When that goes, the audience remembers… “Oh! this is still SL… right…” It showed in the local chat that came afterwards, which was complimentary, but much more muted than the opening night. And, it showed in the tips.

Anyway, a few lessons learned the hard way! We’ll be making the required changes and practicing our responses to the worst case scenarios. I reckon that all the preventive measures will cancel out any of the worst case preparations, but in show business, you never can tell.

Join us for our next show this Friday at 5PM SLT and we’ll see if we can beat the gremlins together!

2 thoughts on “Romeo + Juliet versus the Gremlins: A few lessons learned

  1. Your post is a very comprehensive reflection on what happened and the solutions for the issues that came up.
    A suggestion that might help, I have hosted a lot of different types of events (far simpler, I must add, than the Romeo and Juliet performance but equally filled with the urgent need to act and SL stubbornly preventing that).Having an external way of communicating (Skype, Messenger, a private chatroom) became a true lifeline in situations when we needed to react swiftly. SL is terrible for private communication involving more than two people.
    Respect, a lot of respect for the collected way you guys went through the storm and navigated the ship till the end.


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