Thursday, July 28, 2011

A Few More Thoughts on Social Profiles

 This past Saturday I wrote a brief article detailing what I'd like to see with the new social features added to Second Life's profiles. In just the past few days these new "Social Profiles" have gone "live" and we're seeing reactions around the grid.

  The biggest issue on most peoples' minds seems to be, "How will this affect "Friendship" in SL?"

 Second Life's "Friendship" features have always been painfully limited, lagging well behind the contact features and tools provided by Instant Messaging clients from the 90's. These new social features make this issue even more painfully obvious and we can only wonder if Linden Lab will address the problems arising.

 Let's take a look at the problems themselves.

 Second Life's "Friend list" features never offered much in the way of organization. The name itself shows how limited the system is. We have a "Friend list" where we add "friends". Yet, how many people on your "Friend list" are actually friends? How many are acquaintances, business associates, contacts relating to group projects, et cetera?

Instead of a "Friend list" we should have a "Contact list" in which we can organize our contacts into categories based on our relationship. Simple Instant Messaging clients offered this functionality in the 90's and it's long been clamoured for in SL. 

 We need the ability to manage our privacy levels based on those groupings. I'll certainly want to share more with actual friends than a random stranger I met very briefly and may never speak to again. The new social features make this an even more pressing matter.

 We should have new non-contact list features relating to how people can follow our social "feed" as well. What if I have a favourite builder and I don't know them personally so I'm not on their Contact list, but I want to follow their public feed?  There should be a "Follow" feature linked to the new profiles in this way. Of course, it would be subject to the privacy settings each individual user sets up. Twitter, Plurk, Blogger and many other online social tools offer this sort of feature.

 These are just a few of the more obvious thoughts on the matter. I'm sure we'll see a lot more in the coming days.

 In addition, "Social Profiles" launched with none of the features I'd hoped to see. They're an improvement over the old profiles, yes, but I would hate to see Linden Lab miss out on the amazing potential profile improvements have towards addressing the biggest complaint among new users to Second Life.

 "There's nothing to do!", they say before logging out and never returning.

 The solution to this perception is right in front of Linden Lab, all they need to do is realize it and add a few key features to profiles.

 In addition to what I'd previously written about, I'd also like to see more that brings together a person's activities on the Second Life website. Based on individual user privacy settings, of course.

 When I add a post to an existing thread, or create my own thread on the Second Life forums, that should appear in my feed.

 When I pose a question to, or provide an answer for, the Answers section of the SL website, that should appear in my feed as well!

 Fredrik Linden has stated that development of "Social Profiles" will continue. Here's hoping this means more big new additions, rather than merely fine tuning what they've delivered on so far. CEO Rodvik Linden has voiced his desire to provide social network features to the SL user base rather than having them rely solely on Facebook, Google+, Twitter and the like. He seems to be pushing content creation and bringing users to in-world content more than previous CEOs, so it is difficult not to be hopeful.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Thoughts about "Social Profiles"

You may have heard that Linden Lab is beta testing what they call "social profiles", a long overdue set of improvements to Second Life's avatar profiles. Replace YOURRNAME in the link below with your account name as it appears in your current SL web profiles to see your "Social Profile" as it appears using your beta grid profile information.

For example, mine would be

Recently I suggested in a forum thread that, while I like what I see so far, I hope that LL plans to take the concept much further because there is so much more they could do with it. One poster to the thread stated they did not care for social profiles because they did not wish to link SL to their offline identity and another asked if I could expand on what I would like to see in "social profiles."

 I think my answer covered both, as I don't see "social profiles" as a way to link to Facebook, Google+, or a way to link our SL avatars to our offline identities at all. I see "social profiles" as a way to get people to connect with each other in SL via their SL identities, as well as a way to draw people to content within SL more easily. A way to get SL users, new and old, more engaged with each other and with content and activities relevant to their interests.

To do this I would go much further than just upgrading Avatar Profiles, I would also upgrade Land and Group Profiles as well as Event Listings all in ways to interconnect them. Thread them all together and also create a new way to use SL search to track down content relevant to one's interests.

 First, I would turn Avatar Profiles into a cross between a Facebook/Google+ profile and a personal website, with the focus on SL community more than offline identity.

 You'd have the About tab which included a brief profile, interests tags, a website link, a marketplace link and a "home" spot where you could place a "pick" for your home or other significant SL location like a favourite hangout spot.

The Main page would have your stream. Like Facebook or Google+ you could add posts to this. These posts could include your inworld location at the time of the post as well as screenshots. Your contacts' streams would be included in this, if their privacy settings allow it. Posts to your stream can be responded to by others as well, just like Facebook/Google+. If your privacy settings allow it others could also follow your stream without being in your contact list and you could hide individual contact's posts without removing them as a contact or blocking them altogether. You could also filter by Contact Groups. (ie: Friends, Acquaintances, Coworkers, or other custom groups you create for your contacts.)

Picks tab would remain more or less the same. The big changes here would be in Land Profiles.

I'd add a "Friends" tab or similarly named for you to list people significant to you. These "Friend Picks" would include their profile image, a screenshot of your choosing, their name (click on to go to their profile) and whatever sort of description you add to the pick.

I'd also add a "Calendar" tab which, depending on your privacy settings, showed events you posted, had RSVPed for, or were being hosted by groups you were in or on land featured in your Picks tab. You would receive notifications on group events, land events and could be invited to events by friends. From that notice you could choose to RSVP and add it to your calendar with optional reminders as the event drew near.

Depending on privacy settings you would get notifications about upcoming birthdays and/or rezdays of people on your contact list to also add to your calendar.

I would also find ways to link an avatar's profile to their forum activity. Maybe include SL forum activity in the account's "stream" including replies and "kudos" they receive from others.

Perhaps people could "pin" forum posts to a tab in their social profile, like "Picks" but for forum threads. I'd also like to see LL provide the ability to respond to forum threads through their profile stream. Say you post in a thread, any response to you would show up in your stream, allowing you to respond right there.

That's all just the Avatar Profile side of things, I'd also upgrade Group, Event and Land profiles to support and compliment these features.

Land and Group tabs would also have Calendars. The calendar for Land would show all upcoming and previous events hosted on that land. Group calendars would have all events posted under that group.

Group, Event and Land profiles would include interest tags like profiles. Search could be filtered by interest tags, however only a limited number of "interest" tags could be applied to Groups, Land or Events to prevent spamming of unrelated tags simply to have your group, land or event show up in more searches. Clicking on an interest tag in your profile could bring up a listing page of all groups, locations, events and people who have that tag. Your "Recommendations" tab would include such places as well as those sharing your other interest tags.

Event pages would link back to the person who posted the event, the group it was posted under and the land it is hosted on, all in addition to the event description. Event listings would have an RSVP button to add the event to your calendar with the option for reminders as the event drew near.

Groups Profiles could list multiple in-world locations significant to the group, like public hangouts.

Land profiles would list all groups that linked to that land as a group location. Depending on privacy settings, Land profiles could also list people who had listed that land in their Picks or Home locations.

Group, event and land profiles would all have "shout-out" boards people could post messages to. The shout out boards could be moderated by managers/officers/owners.

Groups would have a constant "group chatroom", much like an IRC chatroom. From the group profile you could see, depending on group and individual privacy settings, who was in the chatroom and whether or not they were active or just present but inactive.

Land profiles could have a number of "landmark" locations for "must see" spots in the land. The number could be based on how large the land is. Small parcels might not have any. A quarter of a sim might get something like 5. A full sim could have up to 10 "landmark" locations. These would be like current parcel descriptions+screenshot. The main land profile would have at least two screenshots. Selecting a location "landmark" would bring up a beacon leading you to that specific location. Of course, I'm not saying they should be called "landmark locations" as that would be too easily confused with the current landmark system.

You'd be able to access these various profiles even without being logged into SL itself, just via the website and an SL mobile app. You could send messages to people or groups from the website, and even access the group chat room.

  As you can see, my concept of "social profiles" has little to do with riding Facebook's coattails or a futile and pointless attempt to link SL identities to users' offline identities, and everything to do with engaging users, enticing them into logging in, providing them with activities and content that interest them, and helping to keep them invested with their SL social connections.  

 More social interaction between SL users.

 Easier access content (locations, events and groups) that are related to your interests.

 Greater ease in staying connected with SL friends and groups when unable to log in directly.

 A constant stream of content delivered to you via event invites, calendar reminders, birthday/rezday notices, etcetera ensuring that you're aware of all the going-ons that give you a reason to log in and be active in SL.

 Yes, it would be a lot of work to accomplish all of this. However, if LL wants to continue to promote growth and activity in SL then this is precisely the sort of work they should be throwing themselves into.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Island of Milk & Cream

 A word of note to those wishing to explore the build featured in this article, the Island of Milk&Cream has plenty of quiet, relaxing areas, much of the island being very scenic in nature, but it also has a significant amount of adult content. You're very likely to encounter that if you go exploring in the sim. 

 In addition, aside from the text added to the Milk&Cream SL search image, none of the screenshots in this article are edited. I did not even use "photographic" windlight presets just for these images. This is how SL looks using my custom windlight day cycle. I find it amazing LL refuses to update their own default shader settings to look this nice, but that's a subject for another article.

The Island of Milk & Cream 

 One of the things I do in Second Life is design environments. Basically level design and modeling for a great big social sandbox. It can be a bigger challenge than videogame levels since you're not designing around goals, and there's so much more you need to take into account due to the sheer amount of freedom SL allows in avatar sizes, camera placement and even interface. Not to mention the lack of base tools and settings to allow for more universal concepts such as scale, which videogames take as a given.

 As a multi-player environment you also need to see where people gather, where they avoid going and what they fail to discover entirely (which can be good or bad).

 At some point I'll probably write an article going into these differences and the challenges unique to SL in environment design, but for now I really just wanted to share some of the work I've done this week.

Aside from the text added to this image, all the screenshots in this article are unedited.   
 The Island of Milk & Cream is a project I did for a few friends. Alyce Beaumont-Snow, Kichi Kutanaga and Lilyth Lykin. I had my own tiny 4096 sq.m. parcel where I had a little tropical farm to house my shop of cowgirl avatars and accessories, they ran a similarly themed club that was much larger and had much more traffic and invited me onboard. A short while later a move to another sim prompted a redesign of the club and they gave me complete control over the project.

 So, basically I moved up from my tiny 4096 sq.m. (937 prims) tropical farm;
This is actually a screenshot of the 2048sq.m. farm. I can't seem to find any from after acquiring the neighboring 2048sq.m.parcel. I added a cabana, more beach front and a whole lot more detail.

 To a quarter of a sim (16,384 sq.m. and 3,750 prims). Kichi was really keen on returning the club itself to a "treehouse in the sky" theme, so we decided on a floating island with giant trees to support the treehouse.

A quarter of a sim is a huge amount of space. Most people reduce that to an area that seems only as large as my old 4096 sq.m. parcel. I had Kichi set out enough trees and island pieces that I was able to construct a single large floating island with a bit of landscaping to the surface. Particularly, I wanted to have a river flowing through it which ended in two waterfalls on either side of the island.

SL can look magnificent with a good build and decent atmospheric shaders.
  With the layout in place I started in on detail. The farm portion of the island was easy, just laying out all the pieces of my old tropical farm build, minus the palm trees. I also cut out the stables from the old farm, since with plenty of island space I didn't want the farm itself to be the only interesting spot to go, so I spread the content out around the island.

The treehouse entrance is right next to the farm, at one end of the river bridge, making that one of the central gathering places of the island.
  I love to explore, so I also love to craft environments full of nooks and crannies for others to explore. I'm particularly proud of the secrets for people to uncover at the Island of Milk & Cream.

Just a well in a gorgeous forest setting, or is there more to it?
 There's currently three major secret areas to the island, each one is just as detailed as the island environment itself, showcasing just how much content even a quarter of a sim can hold as well as all of the importance of all of the design issues I've brought up in previous articles about Second Life.

 Observant explorers should notice the rickety looking ladders, catwalks and scaffolding leading down along the underside of the island. Those that do will be rewarded with the discovering of the largest of the island's three secret areas. An underground bunker built into caves inside the island itself.

Originally inspired by locations from the Fallout games, my tiny shop in the Wastelands already has too much going on for this extended bunker area.
  The island's other two secret areas are much more tricky to find. It helps to think of Second Life like a videogame, poking at those items which, in a videogame environment, most would explore as a matter of course, but such secrets are so few and far between in SL that few SL users develop the habit.

The "Heaven" area is a homage to the previous "Milk and Cream Club", pieces of which we used around the island as "ancient ruins" to investigate.

 Still, the secret areas of the island are rewards for those who do, and fun little building projects for myself. I'm considering releasing some of them as skyboxes or building sets on the marketplace.

The underground spring grotto is still my favourite of the secret areas. You can't see from a screenshot, but the cavern is filled with animated water effects, including light reflected off the surface of the underground stream.
  There's plenty yet to do with the Island itself. I have big plans for finally working on the treehouse area and the airship docks that serve as the arrival area and shopping district for the island once mesh arrives, particularly the addition of 64m prims. For the time being, the current dock area was created by Alyce Beaumont-Snow and the current treehouse area is mostly Kichi Kutanaga's work with a bit of additional detail added by me.

 In the meantime, the island is coming along nicely and there's already plenty to see and do, even if cowgirls aren't your thing. If you have an SL account, you can visit the island by following the SLURL here.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A Brief Thought About Script Memory

 I have seen  a growing number of people in Second Life lately claiming that excessive script memory use does not create lag.

 I understand the argument. Theoretically, when script memory use exceeds a sim's allotted 300MB of memory (I've also heard 100MB, not sure which is the case), scripts simply cease to function, going into a queue until it's their turn to get some of the sim's limited resources. A step LL took deliberately to reduce sim lag.

 It makes sense, and yet experience tells me it's not entirely true.

Just today I was at the Island of Milk & Cream, a sim I did the majority of the building and design for, when the lag spiked terribly. With 10 people in the sim, at one point four of whom were using around 20-26MB of script memory. One of them quickly left but three remained. The avatars in range of my script memory HUD were totaling 120MB of script memory, in addition to whatever the various builds in the sim take up and the avatars not close enough for me to see.

 As the worst offenders dwindled to only one. the sim performance improved substantially. At the moment there are still 8 people in the sim totally only 38MB and the lag is pretty much gone. 

 Another sim I frequent, Doomed Ship, regularly has 10-20 people or more and yet never has lag as bad as Milk&Cream regularly experiences. Neither sim is a Homestead, they're both full sims. The difference is that Doomed Ship does not allow individual avatars to exceed 7MB of script use and runs a campaign to encourage as little individual script impact by avatars as possible. They're quite friendly and helpful about it with staff members willing to take the time to actually sit down with visitors and help them reduce scripts without losing their favourite features.

 Admittedly,  this is all based off my experiences, not hard technical knowledge of how script memory impacts sim performance. However I work closely with a number of SL's top scripting talent and they all agree that script memory use does have an effect.

 When Linden Lab first introduced the feature to see script memory use among avatars many people worried it would turn into some sort of witch hunt. In some places in SL maybe it did, but I never experienced it. Most places I have seen which even have public "script use boards" displaying avatar memory use still have no actual rules against excessive script use, but encourage people to understand that such excessive script use is a primary cause of lag.

 I think that is a good first step that should see wider use. Rather than immediately clamping down, popular areas should merely point out avatar script use and explain how it impacts the performance of the sim for everyone. Explaining how to avoid excessive script use while still enjoying the range of features people are accustomed to (lower script memory use does not mean sacrificing features, many scripted items in SL are simply scripted poorly and there are better scripted alternatives).

 LL should also make it easier for the average SL resident to check their own script memory use and what attachments contribute the most to their impact on sim performance.

 I'd go so far as to say LL should make some of the better shopping habits a part of their own suggestions to new residents.

 1. Avoid no-mod scripted items. 

 2. Look for script memory use to be listed on vendors. If script memory use is not listed, ask the creator how much memory the attachment (and any accompanying HUDs) uses.

3. Remove scripted items that you do not actually use, such as combat or role-play HUDs in areas where they serve no purpose. Or hidden attachments that you're not currently using.

4. Remove unused scripts from attachments. If you have a favourite gun you wear on your intergalactic bounty hunter avatar, but you don't actually use it's scripted features it's just for looks, make a copy and remove the scripts! Have some heavy armour filled with colour change scripts you never use? Remove those scripts! Resizable hair? After it's fitted, make a copy and remove the scripts from the copy you wear.

4. Try and keep your overall script memory use under 2,000kb.  Most places generally suggest 5,000kb but you really should be able to have all the features you enjoy and stay well under 2,000kb. Aiming for 2,000kb and lower (I'm usually around 400kb-500kb and my avatar is heavily scripted with features) will put more demand on content creators for efficiently scripted attachments and HUDs.

 Content creators themselves should remember to try and make script efficiency a feature. Advertise how little script memory your attachments eat up. Work towards reducing the number of scripts in your creations whenever possible.

 Linden Lab should take this a step further by making script memory a part of marketplace listings just like perms and prim count.

 The onus is on LL and content creators if we want people to reduce their script use. The average user just knows that they want their features, and reducing script use by sacrificing those features is not what they want. However, once low-memory alternatives are available, it becomes much easier for them. There's really no reason why having a well scripted avatar shouldn't be that easy.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

A Matter of Perspective

 This article is intended to illustrate the effects of camera placement on our engagement to, our ability to navigate and our freedom to create content within virtual worlds such as Second Life. I touched on much of this in "A Matter of Scale", but wanted to expand on the specific issues of camera placement in SL beyond the impact on scale, as well as explain how the camera placement settings in Second Life actually work.

A Matter of Perspective
The importance of camera placement in virtual environments.

"The video game industry spent a decade learning important lessons about how camera placement impacts our interaction with, and enjoyment of, virtual worlds -- lessons Linden Lab cannot afford to ignore."    

If you're in your late 20's or early 30's and have been playing video games since the 90's you probably recall what a hot issue camera placement was up until about 2005. In the early days of third person 3D video games how well the camera behaved was one of the primary concerns of most gamers. It could, quite literally, make or break a game. 

 From the time the first 3D gaming consoles arrived up until about 2005 every review of a third person video game made some mention of the camera placement and how it affected or hindered game-play as games came and went with varying degrees of success in dealing with the camera issue.

 The video game industry takes the issue of camera placement very seriously, trying many approaches to the issue to see what worked and what didn't. In 2005 Capcom's "Resident Evil 4" hit the market with a new "over the shoulder" camera view that worked so well for third person videogames that it has become the industry standard. 


Why is the over the shoulder view so popular?

There's three primary reasons.

Environment Creation -  The camera is crucial to environment design. You can't have cramped, claustrophobic corridors or a small shed in the woods if the camera sits so high it will wind up on the wrong side of the walls or ceiling. Larger environments don't seem nearly as large and impressive. Everything needs to be upscaled for usability and aesthetic impact, which presents additional problems, such as the fact that it will become increasingly difficult to keep the on-screen characters in scale with the environment.

Usability - The additional sense of "place" extends to a more intuitive sense of where your avatar is standing in relation to your surroundings, even when you may not be able to see your avatar's feet. This makes it easier to navigate your environment

Immersion - Placing the camera closer to eye level puts you, the player, into that world, rather than making you an outside observer watching from afar. It gives you more a sense of presence within the world.

 As you can imagine, all of this translates directly into a non-game 3D environment like SL, especially in the case of environment creation which is much more important directly to SL users, since the environments in SL are all user created.

Let's take a look at the camera placement in Second Life.

 Second Life has had the same camera placement since Linden Lab first opened the doors in 2003. The camera placement in SL is set very high above the avatar. Zoomed out far enough to see your whole avatar it sits approximately 2 metres over your avatar.

 When you try to zoom in, the camera continues to rest at least half a metre over you, with only the very top of your head remaining visible on screen.

Compare these screenshots to the video game screenshots above.

How does Second Life's camera placement affect environment creation, usability and immersion?

 Take that building to the right of my avatar in the screenshots above. The  criss-crossing roof supports sit at about 2.65m high. For a bit of perspective, the average ceiling in the average apartment/house sits lower at 2.45m high. I'm not even talking the roof itself, which peaks much higher.

Despite the high ceiling, this is what it looks like when I wander inside with SL's camera placement.

The environment creation issues are apparent immediately. As we walk inside we find that the camera sits above the supports.  If the ceiling was solid instead of a phantom sculpt, it would push the camera down below the ceiling, but it would still be angled down, at the back of my head.

  By resting so far above the avatar, the SL camera pushes up minimum required ceiling height. Taller ceilings will make buildings and rooms look stretched, which encourages people to expand outwards to compensate. This contributes to SL's scale problems by pushing environments out of scale with avatars, which encourages people to make larger avatars, which in turn pushes the camera up further because the taller your avatar is the higher up the camera rests.

 This greatly reduces your freedom to create in SL, since you are then forced to compensate for the SL camera.  At least if you are designing an area open to the public, such as a shop, club or a role-play sim. Also, larger builds eat up more prims and more space, leaving you with fewer options for content and detail in your build.

 These same issues make it extremely difficult to navigate smaller environments in SL, contributing to tendencies to greatly over-scale environments in SL. You just need much more space to see your surroundings than you would with camera placement closer to eye level.

 You can also see from these screenshots how the view in SL is more removed from your avatar than the shown in the video game examples, reducing immersion and engagement. You are not inside the room with your avatar, you are watching a character on a screen from above.

Why should this matter to me? I'm always alt+camming around my environment anyways!

 Chances are you're only using alt+cam to zip your camera around your environment when you're standing still. So as long as you're moving, camera placement is important. SL is not IMVU, your avatar isn't a static element in a 3D environment hopping between pre-set poses within a room, you can walk around, explore.

 If you want to explore a cave, wander the corridors of a dark spaceship, a dimly lit fallout shelter, or simply walk from one room to another in your own hosue in SL you are affected by this.

Is there any way to improve the camera placement in SL?

Yes, it's actually quite easy.

Some readers may recall that Torley Linden posted, some time ago, a video with instructions on how to adjust the camera placement in SL. Unfortunately Torley's video only covered half the process. There are actually two debug settings you need to change to properly adjust your camera placement in SL.

Here's a screenshot to help you visualize the settings.

It helps to think of these two debug settings as tacks on a cork board with a string tied between them. "A" in the graphic above represents your "CameraOffset", this is the setting Torley mentions in the video.

"B" in the graphic represents your "FocusOffset", in simple terms this is the area in space where your camera is pointed.

 Let's take a look at what happens when you adjust "A", the Camera Offset, without adjusting "B", the Focus Offset.

 With lowering "A", the Camera Offset, to eye level while leaving "B", the FocusOffset, where it was "A" is now below "B", meaning your camera is actually pointed at an upwards angle. Not much of an improvement now that your camera is looking up towards the sky. It allows you to more easily deal with lower ceilings, but disrupts your sense of  "place" in your environment.

 So this is why we need  to also adjust "B", to keep the camera angled forward and down.

 Seeing is believing, here's a few comparison shots between the default SL camera placement and some custom settings I'll share in a moment. The default camera is on the left, my own settings on the right.

In an open environment you don't run into too many difficulties, although you are more removed from your avatar, as if watching from above. The lower camera angle brings you into the world with your avatar. It's more like "being there".
 Inside is more of an issue, here I've even angled the camera down slightly so it's below the ceiling support beams, but what you can't see here is that this caused issues between my camera and the wall behind me. My camera continuously snapped from inside to outside the wall. I have no such issue with my own camera settings on the right. Also, you can see that it is much easier to judge where I am in the room in relation to the hay bales scattered about than it is with the default camera placement where my avatar is cut off above the waist. I don't even see the ceiling supports from an eye level view unless I angle my camera up!

Will altering my camera affect items with scripted camera controls?

Not one bit.  Vehicles, camera positioning HUDs, chairs that take over your camera placement, will all work exactly as they did before.

What if I don't like the changes after I've made them?
Simply look up the two debug settings you changed and click the "Reset to Defaults" button for each one. This will reset your camera to the original SL default placement, exactly as it was before you made any changes.
Alright, how do I change my camera placement?

This is simple, but I will need to go into a bit of detail because it is slightly different between 1.x viewers and Viewer 2.

 I am including in these directions the changes one needs to make to get either a centred view or a left shoulder offset. Most people prefer the right shoulder offset however some people who do not play many videogames have found the offset view difficult to adjust to and I've had at least one person ask me how to get a left shoulder view.

First you need to reveal the Advanced menu at the top of your screen. To do this simply press ctrl+alt+a and the menu will appear to the right of the Help menu in your menu bar. Viewer 2 users can also go to the Advanced tab in Preferences and select to have the Advanced menu shown.

 From the Advanced menu select "Show Debug Settings", near the bottom.

 The Debug Settings panel will appear. At the top of the Debug Settings panel is a field where you can type the name of the setting you'd like to adjust. 

 Viewer 2 users will want to type "CameraOffsetRearView".

 People using a 1.x viewer will instead type "CameraOffsetDefault".

The panel provides you with three integers to change for the x, y and z placement of your CameraOffset.  Change them to these settings;

x: -2.000
y: -0.400   ( Make positive for a left shoulder offset, leave as 0.000 for a centred view. ) 
z: -0.200

 Once that is done click on the input field again and move to the next setting;

Viewer 2 users will type "FocusOffsetRearView".

People using 1.x viewers will type "FocusOffsetDefault".

Once more you will have x, y and z  positions, this time for the focus point.
 Change them to these settings;

x: 0.900
y: -0.700   ( Make positive for a left shoulder offset, leave as 0.000 for a centred view. ) 
z: 0.200

Viewer 2 users will see their camera change as they enter each number, 1.x users may need to restart SL to see the changes to their camera take effect. 

 Now, while most people seem to enjoy the camera settings I have heard a couple puzzling complaints.

Ack! My avatar fills my screen! This is terrible!
 Simply zoom the camera out! The mousewheel zoom controls work exactly like before. You can also adjust the "x" CameraOffset to move the default camera position forward or back.

I didn't like these settings because I couldn't see my avatar! I want to see more of my avatar, not less!
 This is an extra odd one because these settings should bring more of your avatar into view, not less. I've found this one always seems due to a mistake made when adjusting the settings. Make sure you change both the CameraOffset and the FocusOffset.

 If you did everything correctly your view in SL should resemble this;

 Additional Camera Features

 I also wanted to mention some interesting camera features that many are aware of, but many are not. 

Are you aware that you can move your camera around with the mouse as you're avatar is moving? You can even steer your avatar this way for finer control of your avatar in navigating an environment!

 To make use of this feature simply move your mouse cursor over either your avatar or your avatar's name tag then press and hold the left mouse button.

 While holding the left mouse button down, move your mouse. You'll find your camera moves as you do, move the camera far enough to the left or right and your avatar will begin to turn in that direction. You can also angle the camera up or down in this way, even as you're walking.

Click and hold on your avatar to angle your view up or down, even as you move!
 This has a bit of an interesting side effect on your movement controls. As long as you continue to hold the left mouse button down the keys that normally turn your avatar left/right will instead cause your avatar to "strafe" to the left or right just as they do when in mouselook!

 Enjoy your new perspective in Second Life! 

 I recommend visiting sims like Mont St. Michel, Doomed Ship, the Wastelands and 1920's Berlin, all of which are vastly improved by better camera placement, to see just how different it can be when travelling through small corridors, underground tunnels and through 1=1 scale environments. 

 Here is a Jira requesting these changes be made in the official viewer.

 The nice thing is that with one of the Viewer 2 updates LL introduced camera placement presets. There is now a rear view, front view and a side/group view camera preset built into Viewer 2. This is why the Camera and Focus Offsets were renamed for Viewer 2. This means LL could easily add in more presets, such as creating a new default preset, while retaining the old camera placement as a "classic view" for residents unable to adjust to a new camera placement. They could also make the left shoulder offset and centred view as easily selectable presets one can choose from either the "Preferences" window or the "View" panel.

 Given the popularity of the "over the shoulder" view it seems guaranteed to help draw in and retain more new users and with how simple it is to implement it's a wonder they haven't already.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

A Matter of Scale

This article was originally posted to the official SL forums in early 2011. I posted an expanded version here with additional information and screenshots.

 As of late 2011, Linden Lab has increased the size limit on prims from 10m to 64m, so larger builds no longer eat up nearly as many extra prims. Larger structures such as skyscrapers and full sim builds can still wind up hitting that 64m size limit and with the introduction of mesh, larger mesh structures carry a higher Land Impact cost so scale still does affect resources.

 This article is intended an informative post about the practical and aesthetic implications of scale for content creators in SL. It is not a judgement against large avatars, only an objective assessment of the affects of scale on SL and how both content creators and Linden Lab would benefit from encouraging the trend towards properly scaled avatars.


A Matter of Scale
How scale affects content creation and land ownership in Second Life.

"SL content creators can craft a richer, larger and more detailed world in Second Life, simply by building smaller -- but Linden Lab has to help them by encouraging most avatars to shrink down to a much more realistic size."    

If you're new to SL you may not have realized it yet, but scale is really, incredibly "off" in SL.
If you're an experienced builder you probably realize it but aren't aware of all the ways in which it affects you.

How is Scale Broken in SL?

New users coming in to SL may notice that the Appearance Editor displays your avatar's height when you go to edit your shape. If so then you've seen that the starter avatars are shown to be around 6'3" for the women, and up to about 6'6"-6'7" (About 2m tall!) for the men.

Those are some exceptionally tall avatars!

But it's worse than that. The height displayed in the appearance editor is broken. It's actually giving you a height about six inches (0.15m) shorter than you actually are. So when it says you're 6'7", you are actually 7'1" (2.16m) tall!

To put that in perspective, the average man in North America is a miniscule 5'10"/ 1.78m and the average NBA basketball player only a mere 6'6"/1.98m.

  Case in point, here's my avatar next to the "average guy" in SL. My avatar is 5'7"/1.70m, which is tall for a North American woman.


That's just the difference of a couple of feet. The male mesh can get as tall as 8'10"/2.69m!

 So how does this affect you?


I. The Practical Issues: Land 

1. Land in SL is finite. - Yes, yes. Anything is possible in SL, but only if you can fit it on your land. Since land is a set size, when you make content and avatars larger you are effectively making land smaller. When you double the size of something you are increasing the amount of area it requires four times. Four 10x10m rooms can fit in the space of a single 20x20m room.

 It might help to think of it like Alice's experience in Wonderland. When Alice drank the potion that made her larger, to her it did not appear she was growing. From her perspective it was the house that was shrinking.

2. More land costs more money. - Your double sized house won't fit on a 512sq.m. parcel? You need to pay more money to incease your land until the house will fit. 512sq.m. is actually a lot of space. Chances are, if your house was not double sized it would fit easily into a 512sq.m. parcel and still have room for a comfortably spacious yard. You are effectively paying more money for less land when you up-scale.

3. Larger environments spread people out more. - People often complain SL feels like a ghost town, with many sims going empty a majority of the time. Reducing how spread out people are due to rampant over-scaling would reduce this issue by condensing?, on average, four sims' worth of content to a single sim.

II. The Practical Issues: Building
1. Larger builds require more prims - This, of course ,does not apply to small items like chairs, cars, hats, etcetera but you better believe it applies to environments and other large-scale creations.  If whatever you're building goes larger than 10m at any point up-scaling begins to waste prims. A 10x10m room that requires 6 prims jumps up to 16 prims if you scale it up to 20mx20m. When you're talking a whole house you are likely at least doubling the prim count.

2. Larger builds mean less detailed environments. - As you probably gathered from the above, since a larger build requires more prims this leaves you with fewer prims to work with in creating detail for your environment. Because of this you do not expierience the imaginary issue of "unused space" when working to scale, because you wind up having the prims free to fill that space with additional content and detail. Scale a house down to 1=1 scale and the prims you free up allow you to landscape a yard and add more furniture inside the house. If anything, scaling up leads to unused space as you don't have the prims available to flesh out the environment.

3. The default camera adds an additional metre or two that you need to compensate for in environments. - 8' tall avatars already require a lot of upscaling of the environment to compensate for, but SL has abysmally poor camera placement. The camera floats at least a metre over your head, looking at a downward angle on your avatar. That's extra height you need to compensate for when setting ceiling heights in a build. As a resident, this limits where you can go in SL without experience camera clipping issues that prevent you from being able to see inside a build without going into mouselook.

 Existing sims such as 1920's Berlin, Doomed Ship and others already recognize these scale issues and have made a point of working to a smaller scale. In doing so they have been able to create environments that would require, both in size and detail, 3-4 sims if created with SL's usual scale problems.

To illustrate the above points on a smaller scale, I was able to take Pre'Fabulous' "The Old Barn" and cut the prim count by about half when I shrunk it down to half size. I was able to do the same for my own shop's building in The Wastelands. This also helped me change my shop's build from a single building taking up the entire parcel, to a much more detailed landscape including two bombed out structures, an off-sim landscape, and allowed me to create and detail two additional rooms to my shop's scaled down building.


The above four pictures are all of a 2048qs.m. parcel, the build is a total of 463 prims. That's only twice the size of a 512sq.m. parcel! (remember, twice the size is four times the area.) The shop area (the last three pictures) make up only a small portion of the build. The landscape around the shop is fully fleshed out with burnt tree husks, bombed out structures, a water tower, a military tank, etceter.

Here's a top down view of said 2048sq.m. parcel. My avatar is the black dot in the middle of the red circle. The orange area is the off sim landscape. The blue rectangle marks the parcel area, the smaller green rectangle is a 512sq.m. area overlayed across the shop building, illustrating how the shop itself can fit easily inside that amount of land.

wasteland parcel top view.jpg

III. The Practical Issues: Vehicles
 As described above, building larger leaves you with less land to build in, less land for content, less land for visitors to explore. It also leaves vehicles with less area to drive/sail/fly through.

 Cubey Terra, owner of Abbott's Aerodome and one of SL's most successful vehicles makers once put on a presentation which demonstrated this. He created a race track with tiny aircraft that flew at scale speeds (compared with larger SL aircraft). This was done inside an 80m circular room yet felt absolutely enormous.

You still achieve this affect going from SL's typically oversized vehicles to realistic scale. From the perspective of someone driving a 1=1 scale car a sim is four times larger than the same person driving a car scaled up to double size. Again, it helps to think of the "Alice" example.
IV. The Practical Issues: Avatars
1. Larger avatars have more issues with proportions. - The appearance editor sliders are not made with thought given to how large avatars can be in SL. Because of this, some of the sliders cannot keep body proportions in check on oversized avatars. The arm legnth slider on women is the primarily culprit. Arms are skewed much, much shorter for the female avatar mesh than the male mesh. A properly sized male avatar can achieve a correct "wingspan" with the Arm Length slider set at around 60. A properly sized female avatar requires the slider to be set between 90-100 o the slider. Several sliders increase avatar height, arm length is not affected by any of them. So when you increase the size of a female avatar who already required an arm length of 100 to be proportional, it becomes entirely impossible for her arm legnth to be proportionate to her height.

Proportion Measuring
(For correct human proportions your "wingspan" should be equal to your height, your legs should make up only half your avatar's height. and you should be 7-8 heads tall.)
scale lineup.jpg
(When this topic comes up it is inevitable that some people express concern that it is not possible to create attractive, tall looking shapes at realistic sizes. That is simply not true. Here is a set of examples ranging from 5'3" to 6' tall. The problem is that to "scale down" a shape the appearance editor requires you to adjust every slider manually, basically recreating the shape from scratch.) 

2. Building attachments around large avatars limits who can use your attachments. - Most content creators build attachments to sell around their own personal avatar size. This is a bad habit. This limits your customer base, at least your satisfied customers, to avatars at least as large as your own. It is easy to scale an attachment up, but can be difficult, or impossible to scale an attachment down.  Create an "attachment building" shape that is around 4'5"-5' tall, as small as you can get it while retaining adult proportions. Build attachments around this shape, then scale them up to fit your own avatar when you box them up for sale. This will ensure that all avatars of at least the size of your "attachment building" shape are able to wear your attachments with ease.

V. The Practical Issues: Animations
1.  AO animations can be rendered unusable by scale disparities. - This is especially visible with "ground sit" animations but can also be observed with standing poses. Most SL users have seen ground sit poses sink their avatar well below the ground they're trying to sit upon and the more observant SL users will have seen certain standing poses put their feet through the ground or leave them floating above it.
2. Multi-person poses become impossible to align without a consistent sense of scale. - Many recall how Blue Mars does not allow for altering avatar height. Everyone there is the same size precisely for this reason, to allow content creators to create animations that will consistently and seamlessly work with multiple avatars.
I am not advocating the Blue Mars approach. I prefer the freedom of scale SL provides, however if LL provided a more persistent sense of scale (how they can do this is described further on) that would at least provide a baseline by which all animation creators could work with.

VI. The Aesthetic Issues
1. Coherent scale allows for better looking environments. -  Scale is a part of design and composition. Good design means better looking environments. Currently SL has no coherent scale. Things are not even consistently up-scaled. Avatars are scaled up to about 1 and 1/3 larger than realistic. Furniture is often created around individual avatars, meaning it can be made for avatars anywhere between 6' tall and 9' tall. Environments are often done to fully double scale. Vehicles tend to be a mess of scale, either too larger or too small for any given avatar or their surrounding environment. All of this contributes to SL just looking like a mess. Even the best of SL environments often suffer these flaws.
2. Cohesive scale makes more immersive/engaging environments. - Wiuth the mess of scale described above any sense of immersion is shattered, or at least greatly reduced. A small minority of RP sims recognize this issue and build accordingly, with amazing results. When everything (environment, vehicles, furniture, avatars) are all in scale together, consistently, it creates a much stronger sense of immersion, of "being there". This is one reason why videogames and other virtual worlds place far more restrictions on character size, or remove the ability to change size altogether.
3. Coherent scale allows you to use scale for deliberate effect. - "If everybody is tall, then nobody is tall." Height is relative. But when there's limits to size and everyone crowds one end of the scale, you wind up limiting options. In SL, most people tend to crowd the extreme tall end of the spectrum, 7' to 9' tall. This means it's impossible to create a giant avatar that towers over the average person without resorting to crude hacks.
Let's take a look at how this affects SL in the setting of a role-play environment by showing two characters from the sci-fi/horror sim "Doomed Ship". A gigantic demon beast and a human engineer. Here's how it looks if the "human" is the size of your average SL man.
demon meets giant.jpg
 That gigantic demon winds up being only about a head taller than our measly 7'5" human. Sure, the demon is bigger, but not by much. And that's not even a human with maxed out height.

Let's take a look at this same pair if the human engineer is only about 6' tall.

demon meets human.jpg
Now there's a huge difference! Without any hacks or cheats, we have a tremendously intimidating demon beast that literally towers over our hapless human engineer.

 Avatars can be anywhere from about 4' to nearly 9' tall while retaining adult proportions. In other words, making the majority of avatars unintentionally huge limits those who wish to be intentionally giant sized. Moving the size of the adult average avatar more to the middle of that scale, as opposed to the extremes, creates more freedom for us by allowing for a wider variety in sizes.

Why not scale avatars down even further? Why not scale our avatars down to 1m tall, or 50cm tall?
 There are several reasons that should be obvious with just a little thought. First, we can only scale down avatars so far before it becomes impossible to maintain correct adult proportions. You can get down to about 5' tall and then you need to start making concessions that will quickly leave you with childlike, dwarven shapes. Further still and the mesh just winds up a mess of pinched vertices and clipped polygons.
 Second, prims have minimum size restrictions as well as maximum size restrictions. Scale down much further than I've suggested and you no longer get additional benefits of prim efficiency, Further still and it becomes more and more difficult to get the desired detail out of prims because you can't make them small enough.
Finally, you begin to run into the same problem of everyone squeezing into one extreme of the spectrum. Just like when everyone is tall, nobody can be tall. When everybody is short, nobody can be short. You hit that wall where creativity and diversity becomes restricted.

Who are you hoping to convince with this article?
Next to LL themselves, it is SL's content creators who are most responsible for driving the trends that shape the virtual world. The trend in SL is already shifting towards smaller avatars. It's becoming more and more noticeable, but it is still a slow transition. As more content creators recognize how scale consciousness benefits them that will make it easier and more desirable for the average resident to scale down. But isn't it too late? Won't scaling down now break all kinds of content?No. Content is already broken due to scale, as illustrated above. An 8' tall avatar is not in scale to a double sized house, or to furniture created by a 6'5" builder. Most moddable items in SL can be scaled down with only a modest amount of effort. No-mod items are generally a bad idea in any case and should certainly not be an excuse against much needed improvement. Anyone who has been in SL over the years should realize that new, better content tends to lead to older content being phased out over time anyways.
Sure, old content may get phased out over time, but wouldn't we be stuck with content even more over-sized if we all scaled down right now? 
Anyone who has already scaled their avatar down can tell you it is not nearly as big an issue as people tend to think. Also, there is no way to scale down all SL avatars en masse anyways. Anything done, by the residents or by LL themselves, will only speed up a trend. Time will take care of the rest.
What could LL do to fix this problem?
LL can do a few key things that will, again, give the existing trend towards smaller avatars a much needed boost.
1) They can improve the camera placement. All it takes to vastly improve the SL camera placement is changing a few numbers in the debug menu. Anyone can do this easily, but only a very small minority tend to change defaults so it would be ideal if LL changed the defaults themselves. Instructions on how to do so are here.  Here are some screenshots illustrating what I mean about camera placement. On the left is the default SL camera placement. On the right are my custom settings, which are based on the "over the shoulder" view that has been the popular standard in third person videogames since 2005.
In an open air environment there's not too many issues with obscured vision, but you are more detached from your avatar. It's more like watching a character on a screen as opposed to seeing the world first hand. The lower camera angle brings you into the world with your avatar.

 Once you wander inside, the problems with SL's camera become more apparent. You can see that the camera is pushed close so most of your avatar is cut off, making it more difficult to navigate if the room is furnished or has other obstacles.
What can't be shown well in screenshots is that the default camera is continuously  "popping" through the wall or the support beams in the ceiling above. If you try to zoom in to compensate for the small room, you wind up with only the very tip of your avatar's head onscreen, and you still have issues with the ceiling.  These issues are entirely absent with the "over the shoulder camera. I was even able to create and navigate a fully furnished recreation of one of my previous real world apartments, where the main room was only about 6mx6m with a 2.5m high ceiling.Here is a link to a Jira entry requesting this change. 2) LL can provide properly scaled avatars to new residents. Seriously, the starter avatars need to be replaced anyways. LL needs to give new residents good looking, properly proportioned avatars if they want to shake SL's reputation for poor graphics, addressing the scale issue head on with new accounts would be a large step in that direction as well.3) They can make better use of scale and proportion in their public works projects. This does not mean making buildings and welcome areas too small for existing over-sized avatars. A theater or an auditorium isn't going to have 3m high ceilings and most Welcome Areas/Infohubs tend to be primarily open air environments at any rate. 4) They can fix AgentHeight so the appearance editor displays correct avatar height. Here is a Jira entry requesting this.

But why would LL want to address this problem? Wouldn't it reduce the amount of land people want to own?
Not in the slightest.You need to consider how value and cost impact demand.Have you ever actually heard of a resident saying, "Gee, I wish I had less land!"? Probably not. If anything, people always wish they could get more for the amount of land they do own. They are already paying what they are willing to pay based on both their ability to pay and the value they attribute to land.They would not tier down if they realized they could do more by reducing the scale of their avatar and build, they would continue to fill out the space they own, just with more content. That is how demand works. People are willing to pay X amount for a minum amount of perceived value. What they're willing to pay does not go down as perceived value rises. If anything, it will rise to meet their ability to pay.In addition, as the value of land skyrockets so does demand. People who previously wrote off smaller parcels of land because they believed they could not use it for anything worthwhile would be flocking to the land store once they were shown the possibilities.Encouraging better use of scale is win/win for everybody. Residents win with a larger, better looking SL with greater diversity and creativity possible with avatars. Content creators win with greater freedom and flexibility in creating content for SL, and a better understanding of scale helps them to create content that can be used by all avatars regardless of size.Land Barons win in that land has more value to customers so it is easier to sell/rent land due to higher demand.Linden Lab wins most of all in greater demand for land of all tier levels, and a greater influx/retention of new customers drawn in by a better looking and more engaging Second Life experience. 

When not spending far too much time playing with Second Life, Penny Patton is an illustrator, designer and visual arts consultant who has worked in social media, television animation and art education.