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In Depth: Dare to Achieve!

Last month, a crew of Gaia's developers made a frenzied push to finish the first round of one of its most ambitious projects of the year. Let's hand it over to them for an in-depth look:

    If you've played any video games recently, you're probably familiar with achievements. They're the little trophies that pop up when you complete some weird objective, like driving off the world's highest cliff or strangling a thousand butterflies or whatever.

    We've been kicking around ideas for a Gaia achievement system for years now, but we couldn't seem to muster the manpower to do it right-- with something as big and all-encompassing as achievements, you can't do it halfway. This year, under the leadership of darknrgy, we finally put a team together to tackle it.

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    The first round of beta achievements went out in Gaia Labs a few weeks ago. A lot of them were small achievements for new users-- more on that in a minute-- but we've got plenty of more ambitious achievements in the works. Even if you've been on the site for years, we want to give you huge, tough challenges to work toward, like making 50,000 posts or creating a hugely popular thread. Of course, there'll be tons of crazy hidden achievements, too-- you never know when you'll get rewarded for something completely random, like posting in Chatterbox with no pants.

    Achievements make for great bragging rights for veterans, so why the early focus on new users? A lot of new people who join Gaia tend to get confused and drop out before they figure out all the cool stuff to do. Rather than presenting a linear "newbie quest," which we tried in the past (it never really worked), achievements give people a set of goals that they can pursue in whatever order they want. If they're interested in the forums, they'll be rewarded for posting; if they want to check out the arenas, they'll earn points for rating art. Hopefully, this will lead to less confusion among new users, which is better for everyone-- nothing is sadder (and more annoying) than a bewildered newb.

    We're hoping that Achievements will make the site more fun for all Gaians, whether they're old or new or anywhere between. If you have any awesome suggestions, please drop by the feedback thread.
Animated Items Arrive on Gaia!

    Strange cosmic beings are among us, and they've created something truly remarkable: Animated Items! Although the first-ever AIs are no longer available in the Cash Shop, many Gaians are putting them to dazzling use. Sweet Charming Blush, Baron the Lively Owl and Spectacular Golden Halo are sprucing up avatars in grand fashion, blasting eyeballs with their provocative motions.

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    It's clear that more Animated Items will be appearing the future, just as soon as Saiph and Hatsya get around to making them. I'd tell you when, but cosmic visitors are surprisingly hard to pin down.

    One thing we heard loud and clear: you guys want them to animate longer. There's some good news on that front: small amounts of an otherworldly animation-extending substance known as Stellarite have been discovered. Efforts are underway to bring more Stellarite to Gaia, so keep your eyes peeled!
Ocean Party: Still Partying!

    We've made some major updates to Ocean Party, our maddeningly addictive Facebook aquarium game. If you haven't checked it out in a while, it's a great time to pay another visit, play a few rounds of Scrubbles and check up on your aquatic kingdom. Here's what's new:

    • A bunch of cute new fish, gifts and decorations! We've got a pretty robust variety going on, so you can populate and customize your tank like never before.

    • The "Catch of the Day" means you'll get a free fish every consecutive day you visit Ocean Party. If you show up seven days in a row, you'll get a rare, exclusive mermaid (and probably develop a crippling Ocean Party addiction in the process).

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      Gaia artist futurelevel's fish are all hungry, but they haven't died! Feed your fish, you sick, negligent monster, lest they be forever trapped in a hellish limbo of starvation and despair.


    • No more fish death. We knew it was a bummer if you left your tank for a couple of days and came back to a gruesome fishy graveyard, so your fish will now carry on living despite your absence. You should still show up and feed them regularly, though, because fish abandonment is no laughing matter.

    Oh, and may we interest you in some free stuff? We've got a nice little gift to all the newsletter readers out there:

Meet The Staff: Derlaine Moves to Art!

    As a member of Gaia's development team, Derlaine has worked on countless projects and helped code many of the features you use every day. All the while, she's been moonlighting as an artist-- you may have seen some of her work during events or in CI announcements, or maybe you happened to see her Gaia Art Walk thread.

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    Laine enjoys the company of some fancy gentleman friends.


    Recently, she made big career move: she's been ruthlessly stolen by Gaia's creative team, where she can devote her full-time attention to painting instead of programming. Action News correspondent Cashmere Cactus sat down for a quick interview:

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    So are you an artist that got into coding, or a programmer who got into art? How'd you come to be both?

      I'm an artist who got into coding; drawing has been a constant for most of my life whereas the computer came later. When we were in middle school, my older brother convinced my family to get a computer and I started messing around with HTML. Eventually it came time to choose a college major, it seemed natural to pick Computer Science. Art wasn't even on the table; the concept of doing art for a living was something beyond my understanding because I come from a small place where there isn't a big entertainment industry.

      I have to thank the internet for keeping the art pursuits alive; it literally opened up a new world to me. Having a community to share your art with, posting in forums and talking to other artists really opened up a new world for me! I'm glad that spirit is alive today in Gaia, and it's great to see so many young artists develop here.


    Programming and art sound like pretty different mental pursuits. Do they have anything in common?

      Good practice for both of them is you start from the general and work into the details for both of them. For programming you start building from the general blueprints and rules of how the system should work before getting into the nitty-gritty line by line stuff. For art you start from things like concept and composition before you get to work on painting highlights in the eye. I suspect it is like that for a lot of disciplines.


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    I'm mad at you because you're good at two things. Any advice for people like me, who aren't really good at anything?

      A good ninja must have a strong mind, strong heart and strong body!

      On a more practical note, if one truly is at the bottom then the only direction you can go is up, right? We have exactly one ride on this rock; if you like doing something, just do it and enjoy the process! =D


    Any features you've worked on as a developer that you're particularly proud of?

      Inventory Reader, because it is used all over the site and somehow still chugging along. Whenever you look at your inventory, whenever anything needs to check what is in your inventory, it goes through that class. Sometimes I can't believe it is still working lol.


    How'd you make the leap to full-time artist?

      I'd been helping the art team with a lot of illustrations and concepts over the years, but I would always do it after work because it's not my full time job. So I would code for 8 hours, then I'd go home and go straight to Photoshop until I slept. Some days I would literally be working from the moment I woke up till the moment I slept :O. This is not a scalable model LOL, so I decided I had to choose one. I've already been coding for a few years already so I thought I'd try out art full time and see how it goes. I still keep my programmer account, to do the occasional bug fixes and patching.


    What are you looking forward to most about working full-time on the art team?

      Being able to come in every day and create in one of the most creatively free environments, great teammates, it's a privilege I am thankful for!


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