I love Second Life, I wouldn't write about it so much, or spend so much time playing around in it, if I didn't. Of course, loving something doesn't mean blindly dismissing it's flaws, and Second Life has many, many flaws.
So, I recently rebuilt Milk & Cream with a focus on making it as efficient as possible. I cut down severely on sculpted prims, used tonnes of mesh content, separated the mall and club area from the more detailed play area so that they wouldn't be sapping each other's framerates, etcetera.
However, there is one tiny spot in the Milk & Cream play area where framerates drop through the floor.
Inside an enclosed building furnished almost entirely in mesh, precisely where framerates ought to have been the highest, I found my framerates dropping to their lowest point. Where everywhere else I was achieving 30-40fps pretty consistently, inside this building my framerates dropped to an abysmal 5fps.
Why was that?
I began removing elements from inside the furnished tavern and watched my framerates. As I began to remove mesh furniture my framerate began to climb far more substantially than I'd have expected. I selected all of the items from one particular mesh set and removed them all. My framerates soared to 50fps.
Why was that?!
It wasn't the model work, which was fairly efficient, for the most part. Enough that the land impact cost was satisfactorily low.
I had a thought. I checked the texture sizes on the furniture pieces. Almost every single furnishing and decoration in this set used 1024x1024 textures. And not just a single such texture, no, even where only one texture could have, and should have, been used, the creator had broken the items into multiple textures, each 1024x1024.
There was a wooden cup with some coins inside and a "tip jar" sign leaning against it. The wood of the cup was a 1024x1024 texture. The sign was a separate such texture. The cup had three tiny metal rings around it, sure enough the creator had textured these with a separate 1024x1024 texture.
Every single item in the set was like this. The furnishings used in the tavern took up more texture memory alone than the entire rest of the island combined.
I kept the furniture in place and removed the textures, using the default plywood texture instead. Sure enough, my framerates jumped from 5fps to 50.
This illustrates the most obvious, and yet somehow most overlooked, issue in Second Life. Texture maps eat up resources. Larger textures eat more resources. Most of the lag and framerate issues in Second Life are, in fact, due to use of excessively large textures.
I contacted the creator and tried to explain the issue.
They replied that they are a gamer and therefore knowledgeable about how videogames are made. With complete certainty they assured me that it was thelimits of SL's technology that were to blame, that all videogames use texture maps the size of the ones they used AND LARGER. They sympathized with my problem but they simply couldn't bear the thought of sacrificing quality for framerates. They hoped someday that technology would progress enough that everyone could run SL as well as gamers run Crysis 3 and Skyrim.
That disconnect from reality is why Second Life fails to catch on.
Many content creators cling to this delusion that all of SL's problems are due to either people using underpowered computers or LL's own failings in crafting the code upon which SL runs. This mistaken, entirely unfounded idea that SL itself is so bleeding edge technology, when it's really not and never has been!
To be sure, many people do try to run SL on underpowered computers and there is a lot of issues with the code upon which SL runs. However, my computer has an i7 core, 12GB of RAM and a high end video card. I run Skyrim at full settings with the HD texture set add on. My computer is more powerful than the average gamer's.
Why can I run Skyrim so well?
Well, one reason is that the artists who created the art assets for Skyrim did not, in fact, use 1024x1024 textures on the 3cm wide metal rings of a cup that textured with five other 1024x1024 texture maps! Let alone larger!
That simply does not happen!
Now, before you slip into the trap of dismissing all of SL's problems as simply a fact of allowing user created content, I say to you that Linden Lab bears the brunt of the responsibility here. They do absolutely nothing to prevent people from creating content this way, or providing people like you or I the ability to avoid such amateurishly made content.
What can they do? Plenty!
First of all, texture maps should count towards Land Impact costs. There is no reason whatsoever why content using so many obscenely large textures should have such low LI cost. This sort of hit to performance is precisely what LI exists to prevent. That it doesn't even take it into consideration shows just how poorly LL understands their own product.
Second, textures always cost 10l to upload, regardless of pixel or file size. That's ridiculous. Larger texture files should cost more to upload. Costs should be balanced in such a way where smaller files cost less, however a single large texture costs less than multiple smaller textures, encouraging people to combine textures.
Third, SL's building tools should be designed with the fact that they're mostly used by amateurs. There should be many helpful tips and tutorials that are entirely absent. When someone is uploading a 1024x1024 texture, they should receive a notice popping up asking them if they understand what that means. If they're importing a model with many such textures, another pop-up should appear pointing out the issues they will run into.
Hell, this kind of information should be in the text people need to take before they can upload mesh models.
In addition, LL could seriously enforce truth in advertising. The spot where we list prim counts for items on the marketplace needs to be updated to Land Impact. People are listing 100LI mesh models as costing 1 prim. Some of them are just confused and don't understand what "prim" means as opposed to object. Other people are simply being deliberately dishonest. Combine texture use with LI cost and allow customers to flag content which does not provide an honest LI cost for their product.
Most of Second Life's problems can be blamed entirely on this disconnect between Linden Lab's development teams and the realities of how Second Life works. Everything from poor framerates and lag, to how expensive land appears to be are all a direct result of this problem.
LL has struggled for years to address these issues and make SL more relevant. This, right here, illustrates where the change need to happen if they ever want to succeed.
Rodvik, hire an art director. Make sure your management team listens to them when assigning priorities to developers like Oz. It is not the responsibility of your programmers to understand these things, which is why they need direction from well informed management. Management cannot be well informed unless they have a good art director explaining these things to them.
It is really that simple.