looking for a few good ideas

  amongst the irregular verbiage

A Virtual World

We slept in. Not surprising, really. Jeanne was out visiting when we woke up, so we had a quiet late morning figuring out computer stuff with Stan, and playing with the cats, and lying outside in the shade. When Jeanne came home we quickly rushed out and grabbed some coffee (for breakfast tomorrow), some sandwiches (for lunch immediately) and some developed photos (that I'd put in for developing the day before).

Then, it was in to the car to drive in to the city and drop Jeanne at her place of work, which happens to be a show store in the shopping area of the Mirage Hotel/Casino.

Our plan was to get tickets for _Mystere_, the show by Cirque du Soleil that performs regularly at Treasure Island, the Mirage's sister hotel/casino. But unfortunately, tickets were impossible to get as there is no show on Monday's and Tuesdays. So we were out of luck. (We have seen the show before, but it is so special and wonderful and un-Vegas like that we were more than happy to see it again.)

For the rest of the day, we intended to investigate the new casinos that had opened since we were last here. The general trend here is to provide more entertainment facilities for people under-21, who are forbidden by law to gamble and are therefore banned from the casino parts of the hotels.

The newest casino is the Stratosphere, a very tall tower with a roller coaster at the top that goes around the top part of the tower. The roller coaster is no longer open, apparently because an engine fell off it and no-one knows why. However, another ride - the long drop or something - was open. There was a 10 minute wait at the foot of the tower for the lifts.  Our ears popped on the way up. They told us that these were the fastest lifts in the world, and I can believe it. It seemed like it took 15 seconds to ascend 100 stories.

The view from the top of the tower was pretty amazing. I took a lot of photos, and you could see the entire city of Las Vegas laid out in every direction. There were lots of informational notices up about the history of the city and the surrounding mountains and stuff like that. We didn't go on the ride because it really didn't appeal.

After we escaped from the Stratosphere tower - no mean feat in a place where the numerous EXIT signs all seem to lead back to the Casino - we drove to a place that we saw on the way to the tower. It was a small entertainment place called "Virtual World". Aha, we thought. Virtual Reality! Something we could really get into...

We went through the doors and found ourselves in the most strange place. It was like a lounge of a aviator's bar from the First World War, complete with library, bar, t-shirt stand, laboratory (?!), and lots of monitors showing strange scenes.

The concept is centered around the idea that a secret league of researchers had discovered a link to alternate worlds, and could transfer people between them. Each "world" is really a different ride or game, but instead of buying time on a multi-user gaming system, you are  buying tickets for a transfer jump to the "alternate world". There are two possible worlds - a race in hover craft through the canals of Mars, and a Mech-warrior combat robot type of game.

It was actually great. Josh, Derek and I bought tickets for both "worlds". We then had to wait around for our group to be called. The first one was Delta 033, the Red Mars run. We went through a set of doors into a briefing room, where a boffin in a lab coat introduced us to the "world" by showing us a short movie establishing the "feel" of the game, which also showed us how the controls worked and then psyched us up for the "mission".

Then we were lead through to the next room, a large room painted black with rows of "pods" - self-contained cockpits and multiple viewscreens. One screen was the control panel readout of the "craft", and the larger screen formed the "windows" or view screen. We had separate throttle and joystick controls.

Then we get inside the pods that have our callsigns lit up on the side, close the sliding cockpit cover, and wait to be "transferred". The screens light up, and we are "on" the virtual world, ready to play. My callsign was "Cerebus", Josh was "SnarF", and Derek was "DAS EFX".

The computer generated world was pretty good, with good resolution and very responsive controls. Sort of like being in a sophisticated aircraft simulator, a few steps up from a PC-based game. We could shoot each other, but the main aim of the thing was to race back and forth along this obstacle course as many times as possible. The craft we were flying were called "Grunts".

The "missions" take about 10 minutes, after which there is a "de-briefing" session, complete with a personal print-out of the mission log, containing such as:

 TIME      LOG:
00:25 DAS EFX delivers broadside to Cerebus in Nrth Underpass 2
01:55 Heroic pilot Snarf trashes the Grunt
02:40 Righteous booster deployed by Cerebus in South Well Head
02:45 Cerebus destroys the Grunt and bails out
05:00 Booster deployed by Snarf in maintenance corridor
05:15 Snarf kills Cerebus
05:15 Colliding Cerebus destroys DAS EFX in South Easy-Bake 1
05:16 Cerebus loses Grunt in tragic burning
06:07 DAS EFX's Grunt goes down in flames
06:45 Awesome booster power shown by Snarf in Maintenance corridor

... you get the idea. <g>.

Ironically, Las Vegas Blvd is a virtual world. It is certainly not like any other city on the planet, with its fantasy-land atmosphere. Yet the place called "Virtual World" is more real than any of the casinos. It is a well-realised environment - more like role-playing that entertainment. The whole system is run on a Apple Macintosh network of some sort. Our names and call-signs are stored in the system. If we go back there, we will be able to use our ID cards to see our statistics, and play additional "missions" using the same identities. Tournaments are held regularly, and awards are handed out. They have there own newspaper journal thing. They have sites in San Francisco as well. I wonder if our "identities" are valid there.

In all the Casinos I have visited in Las Vegas, the Mirage is the least tacky. Caesar's Palace comes a close second, only because the "Forum" shopping area is decorated relatively tastefully and has some good shops - particularly the Stage Delicatessen, which is truly a wonderful place to eat.

After the "Virtual World" escapade, we went back to the Mirage and parked the car, then walked to the Caesar's Palace Forum shops to the stage Delicatessen for dinner. Yummy! I ordered Matzah Ball soup and a half sandwich, which were extremely delicious.

Then Stan got us free tickets to the Omnimax theatre (I am not sure how he did this) which is a 360 degree picture theatre in this big spherical auditorium. We saw "Survival Island", which is about South Georgia Island, and the seals and penguins and things that breed there. It was narrated by Sir David Attenborough. It was pretty good.

After that, it was getting pretty late. We met up with Jeanne after her shift finished and we drove home.

Jeanne has promised to wake me up for an early morning swim. I hope I am up for it...