Shiny… and not so

When you build with only prims and sculpts, the more detail wanted, the more objects it takes. That’s easier to get away with in, say, InWorldz, where the prim limit is 3 times Second Life’s per square meter. Not so easy in SL.

Except… there’s more than one way to impart the sense of 3-dimensionality besides making it out of blocks. Ever hear of trompe l’oiel art?

That’s oil paint on flat canvas, from 1887.* In our own time, there’s a movement of sidewalk artists who do some phenomenal work when seen from the optimum angle:

The child is real, by the way.

Linden Lab’s announcement Thursday of a new, open source “Materials Systems” project seeks to enable trompe l’Viewer: a way of adding metadata — “normal” and “specular” maps — embedded in mesh objects and textures that fool the graphics rendering engine to interpret a surface other than literally.

If you endured Intro to Optics in a uni-level physics course, you might recall that normal refers, not to behavior, but to the line perpendicular to a surface at a given point, and that reflection and refraction are measured as an angle away from the normal. Specular, in optics, means “mirror-like”; that is, light is reflected directly back toward the source; specularity in computer graphics is a way to control how reflective a surface is, and where.

Put the two together, and you have a way of creating detail on an otherwise flat (or smoothly curved) surface without having to add more more triangles and vertices to the mesh. The Linden Lab post has a short teaser about results (which you should watch), and Nalates Uriah’s blog has a couple of examples from outside SL, as well as an important reminder: It’s all mesh, and it always has been.** Avatars, clothing layers, skins, prims, sculpts, even the sky! Go to your Advanced menu and turn on wireframe to see for yourself.

Think about what skin, clothing, and texture artists will be able do — eventually — with Materials tools. OK, so SL may never look like Pixar put it together (seen Brave yet?), but it may eventually look a lot less flat.

The keyword in the last paragraph is eventually… which brings us to Teh Lab’s other announcement of 16 August: “Second Life is Expanding to Steam”. There was quite a kerfuffle when that news hit the SL enclave in the Twitterverse.

Here’s my reaction, cobbled together from a series of Tweetrants:

“Let them come, and they’ll build it.” How many times have we seen that before?

Since they can’t retain the new signups they already have, why bother looking for more? Unless it’s another round of “let’s make money hosting someone else’s content,” which I strongly suspect. $1000 down and $295/month for a 256m-square sandbox. When someone successfully raises startup cash online for game development in SL, then I’ll believe it’s got legs.

So… yeah. Materials and Pathfinding: great potential tools for builders and game developers who, if they show up, might create some really cool shit that might attract the kind of gamers who use Steam as a one-stop source for stuff to play — eventually. Gotta get the devs here first, of course, but does Linden Lab include that in their thinking? Nope — it’s “cart before horse” time again.

Let’s say, once those shiny new tools are sufficiently “out of beta” to be useful, that someone is genuinely interested in SL as a game development platform. It’s going to cost them a minimum of $4540 for the first year, per sim, plus the nickel-and-dime game of upload charges, just to sandbox the thing. Like I said: when I see Kickstarter appeals on Twitter to bankroll a game in Second Life, then I’ll know that idea is working.

Meanwhile… people go to Steam to play games, not make them. Hard-core MMO players, if they’re curious enough to create an account, are going to take one look and say “Pffft!” Second Life requires self-direction (not to omit a steep learning curve), and that’s not what most people play games for.

Last time I looked, five months ago, SL had about 28.25 million total signups over the life of the grid. It’s up to 30.5 million now – 2 and a quarter million more new accounts; 450,000 average per month, or about 15,000 a day. Yet median concurrency continues to slide, slowly but perceptibly, somewhere south of 40,000.  They can’t keep the newbies they already get every day; why are they going for more, before the improvements that might make more want to stay?

It is a puzzlement.


Civil War Regalia of Major Levi Gheen McCauley, George Cope, 1887 (Art Institute of Chicago)

** The Lab likes to throw the word “mesh” around in various contexts, with various connotations, without explaining that it’s all the same thing. “Mesh import” is exactly and only that — a means to import items made out-of-world (in Blender, et alii, ). “Pathfinding mesh” is, like the materials maps, merely an addition of metadata to the terrain – which is also, and always has been, mesh: a mathematical 3-space construct of points, connected by lines into triangles that imply a surface.


Space to Grow 2

Alisa commented on the last one (see below): “I can hardly wait to get moved in.”

So we didn’t wait.  It took most of Wednesday to get the buildings located:

Then yesterday it was time for ‘finishing’ touches (Ha ha… we’re builders; you know the tweaking will continue!).  Alisa rezzed up a bunch of trees from her collection, and I threw this light pole together, textured to match the color scheme of railings and platform edges on each level:

Alisa threw down sidewalks and began setting trees, while I followed along behind, playing “Johnny Lampseed”.

And there it is: the new and improved Falconvale Fine Prefabs.  I wonder how long it’ll take us to fill it up and need to add a fourth level…

Falconvale (111, 142, 551)


Space to Grow

My partner Alisa and I are, frankly, obsessed with building. Though we have other aspects in common (age; musical tastes; we’re both single and we’re both smartasses), building is what really brought us together after first meeting at Industrial Dreamz in SL almost five months ago. The prospect of building without limits to either size or number of prims, added to a fledgling market in which our work might actually get noticed, is what brought us to InWorldz. Well, OK… U$D 75/month for a full island sim didn’t hurt, either.

We’ve been there since the summer solstice. We began by putting a 100 x 100 meter platform in the sky and importing what she’d built in SL before meeting me, plus the Tudor-style series we’d built over there together. And started advertising…

…and kept building, of course. The 100-meter-square platform was quickly stretched to 150 x 150. We kept building. In August, we copied the first platform 100 meters farther up and added teleports between them.

Guess what? The second floor is almost full, too.

And we’re still building; it’s what we do, like the Doozers down in Fraggle Rock.  Oh yes, we sell one occasionally, too — the Hallowe’en Hunt has been good for traffic — but that doesn’t reduce the need for display space.  We’ve also been putting things up on the sales floors as they’re finished, with no thought to organizing by whether it’s commercial, residential, or accessory.

We’ve been kicking around the idea of rearranging by category, but with the Hunt ongoing until November 1, it wasn’t something we could get to right away… by which time, a third sales floor was going to be inevitable.  I put on my thinking cap, and decided that we wanted something more than a sign to inform our visitors that “there’s more above you.”

My background is in architectural engineering.  I’ve been using computers to draw since 1982.  I knew it would be a lot easier to show Alisa my idea than to try to explain it, so I whipped up some “sketches”:

Before and After, at 1:100 scale, with the sim at bottom and the airspace projected upward. Alisa added the idea of a separate, smaller platform for a “reception” area, where the landmark will eventually bring you.  With her addition and approval, I went up to 750 meters and got to work.

Approximately fours hours later, tweaking and texturing done.   67,550 square meters of display space, not counting the connector ramps — yes, we will have teleports, too! — that’s 2014 m2 more than a sim, with plenty of capacity to add a fourth floor whenever needed.

Now here’s the best part, what I call “NPISL”:

[a] the floors are each a single prim, as are the guardrails along each edge, the ramps, their railings, etc.;
[b] consequently, there are only 70 prims in it;
[c] the volume occupied by the build is 256 x 256 x 150;
[d] it’s a linkset!

Went together as easily as if the farthest pieces were 15 meters apart, not 150, even though the reception platform at the bottom is the root, for ease of placement when the time comes to move it down to 600.


Want one?  IM me in InWorldz.  You can have one for free: copy/mod, no transfer.